Affordable Shipping Container Housing: Comfy Microhomes Or Homeless Prison Cells?

high rise office tower surrounded by empty parking lot
Terminus House photo by Chris Guy is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The Children's Commissioner in England is critical of housing 'solutions' for low income families, which include shipping containers and this office tower (among others).

Quirky Architectural Think-Toy For an affordable housing solution? Or barely habitable concentration camp cage for homeless children?

It would seem that shipping container housing can be both.

Just as a pile of lumber is not yet a conventionally built home, a salt-stained world-weary metal box is not yet a home either. We are not discussing the future here. It’s not so much a matter of what shipping container homes might one day become, as a question of what they already are.

Shipping containers can be refurbished for liveability and affordability. New and attractive designs have been featured in the news media everywhere, including this blog.1

But there’s a considerable difference between rebuilding and refurbishing for liveability on one hand, and repurposing with a lick of paint and a prayer on the other — the ‘lipstick on a pig’ approach.

It seems, however, that in the United Kingdom, budget-conscious councils have allowed themselves to be sold on trendy container-based houses that are just a couple of door and window holes away from a habitable home.

In an already-depressing report on the plight of homeless families and children in the United Kingdom, The Children’s Commissioner of England, exposes a dark side of shipping container construction. In particular, she highlights its consequences on the health and development of children forced to live inadequate container homes for months and years on end. Read more in The Guardian: Homeless Children Put Up In Shipping Containers, Report Says

An affordable housing activist captivated by the potential of shipping container housing might read the headline of the Guardian article and think: well, are’t they lucky?

No. They’re not.


  1. try: The ‘Double-Wide’ Concept Comes To Affordable Shipping Container Homes and Alien Affordable Architecture, Modularity And The Challenge of Good-Hearted Politics


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