Home Sweet Cargo Container: Kaohsiung's 21st Century Architecture／貨櫃宅 展現高雄建築的在地性
Home Sweet Cargo Container: Kaohsiung's 21st Century Architecture
◎English translation: Peng Hsin-yi
◎Photos by Pao Chung-hui
As the world's 13th busiest freight hub, cargo ships from every corner of the world dock at and leave from Kaohsiung every day. Cargo containers have become a symbol which carry cultural significance for the city. Back in 2001, Kaohsiung held the very first Kaohsiung International Container Arts Festival, and this biennial event aims to explore the possibilities offered by cargo containers used in different formats and different expressions.
In the past few years, cargo-container homes have emerged as a new trend in the housing market. These buildings have strong local character, are environmentally friendly, and are gradually gaining traction in the local market. The cargo-container homes of the future are something worth looking forward to!
The theme of the 2013 Kaohsiung International Container Arts Festival was "The Inhabitables," which explored containers' potential as livable spaces. One of the most eye-catching work of the year was presented by two architects, Mr. Wang Chi-tsun and Mr. Lin Jhih-fong. They took four containers and connected them to form the shape of a cross, resembling the nave of a cathedral. They then softened the cold and rigid structure of those containers by flooding them with nature light and light fixtures, turning the harsh environment into a space filled with comfortable simplicity and charm. Their creation utterly dispelled the rough, crude stereotypes which until recently surrounded cargo-container dwellings, and their work has attracted many to look into the ideas of cargo-container homes.
Elaborating on one reason why cargo containers are ideal for construction purposes, Mr. Wang says they are made to weather the elements at sea. The sides are 2mm thick; they can withstand winds up to force 17 on the Beaufort scale; and each 20-feet-long container can carry up to 20 tonnes. All containers ensure 20 years of life. What is more, a container home is easy to assemble and dismantle, so very little damage is done to the environment during construction and removal. Perhaps best of all, they can be built very quickly and cheaply, and they are also earthquake-proof, meaning they are one of the most sustainable building materials available.
Last year, Mr. Wang was commissioned to build the largest cargo-container dwelling so far in Kaohsiung City. The two-story structure soon became the talk of the town. The building's courtyard was big enough for large gatherings. The containers were elevated so as to avoid ground humidity and enhance ventilation. The shade they cast provided much appreciated reprieve from the heat, and foliage planted on the roof and walls helped lower indoor temperatures, so minimizing energy consumption. This intelligent use of natural elements impressed many people.
Mr. Wang's father was an iron smith and was often hired to dismantle cargo containers. Mr. Wang says that when his father first came up with the idea to convert containers to houses, he did not have access to the techniques required, and so could not make it happen. Years later, his dream has been realized by his son.
Today, Mr. Wang's office consists of two containers, and he has put a lot of thought into details involving weight-bearing structures when he alters the spacing. He has also experimented in order to minimize the "bounciness" that some people feel when moving around inside a container. Although he has constantly refined his construction techniques, Mr. Wang favors the original shape and texture of a cargo container, saying that by retaining the original look, one especially appreciates the creativity behind the transformation.
In June this year, Kaohsiung's first restaurant built using cargo containers will open its door. The "Flyin' Moose" is a two-story construction with an exterior so eyecatching passers-by are often stopped in their tracks. Cargo containers as a construction material have opened the door to creative architecture, giving people with ideas a channel for turning their imagination into reality. Their works enhance Kaohsiung's urban scenery.