Shipping container homes became popular thanks to the ‘tiny home’ and ‘minimalist living’ trend in the US. Yet, such living arrangements may not only result from trends. In Hong Kong, containers may respond to a serious ongoing housing shortage, especially for lower-income households.
So far, Hong Kong’s Government has budgeted US$4.5 million for the so- called ‘90-home project’. The plan is building 90 flats out of shipping containers for lower-income families. Their rent would be no more than a quarter of their income and their living standards would improve. The flats are expected to be completed in a year time.
Hong Kong’s lack of land and high housing prices made ‘normal’ living solution unaffordable for lower-income households. 300,000 people are estimated to be stuck in the city’s expensive housing market and the waiting time for social housing is almost 5 years! Container homes are planned to be only a temporary solution, but there already are rumours of extending the project to other areas if it proves valid.
Cost savings, mobility, easy design and installations are advantages of container homes. Shipping containers also encourage a ‘green’ lifestyle as 3.5 tonnes of steel are saved for every container recycled. Yet, containers with residential function are currently illegal in Hong Kong, thus regulations will have to be reviewed.
While the idea sounds good in theory, some experts expressed concerns. The American architect Mark Hogan said containers have ‘poor thermal and structural performance, poor interior dimensions and they require many expensive parts to be built on site anyways’. Moreover, he believes shipping containers cannot be stacked to high-rise height without structural frames. Thus, the saving in constructions is only apparent.
On the other hand, architect Jiwon Baik sees advantages in containers thanks to their affordability, reversibility, light weight and their fast and easy construction methods –which can reduce costs if the construction time is minimised. He also believes that container architecture can save 60 per cent carbon dioxide emission compared to traditional housing.
Finally, architect Matt Elkan holds containers suitable for mass housing just if they remain as ‘unmodified’ as possible for gaining significant costs-cut. The main challenge is Hong Kong’s climate –he thinks- where both typhoons and summer heat are problematic. Steel containers will require extra insulation and air-conditioning –potentially rising living costs.
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