Sustainability Corner: When living in a box is cool

Johanna Poppel

Shipping container home piles up a green path

An icon of international trade has found a unique double purpose.

The one-way transportation of goods from across the globe leaves an over-abundance of shipping containers in major ports and harbors.

Globally, homeowners, businesses and colleges found pride in building with shipping containers. The trend has taken off in the past decade, especially in Europe.

Amsterdam makes dorms and apartments out of shipping containers and London has shipping container shopping centers, or “box parks.” During Helsinki, Finland’s 200th birthday this summer, shipping containers filled with art, fashion and live music were scattered throughout the city for celebration.

But what better way to reuse discarded shipping containers than to live in them?

Shipping container homes are safe and durable. Practically indestructible, steel shipping containers offer safety from floods, tornadoes and fires, and most importantly, are made to last, which is the most important aspect of sustainability.

They are also affordable, easy to transport and to build; they can stack on top of each other without much structural reinforcement, like real-world Lego blocks.

In 2009, industrial designer Debbie Glassberg built a shipping container house near campus at 60th and Charlotte streets.

Debbie’s son, Sam Glassberg, gave a tour of the house on MTV’s Extreme Cribs. The family has grown accustomed to curious passersby observing the home.

“It is five shipping containers, concrete, metal and lots of glass,” Sam Glassberg said. “Everything is pre-fabricated in China. We just had to assemble it here.”

The home’s exterior isn’t the only sustainable aspect. The repurposed design and renewable materials used to build the home would have environmentalists in awe.

“We have sugar beet foam insulation, white bamboo flooring, LED lighting and the outdoor deck is made from recycled plastic,” said Sam Glassberg.

Sam Glassberg said passive solar design virtually eliminates utility bills by taking advantage of natural light.

“The floors, walls, and windows are made and strategically placed to distribute solar energy throughout the building in the winter and to reject the sun’s heat in the summer,” he said.

The Glassbergs even produce their own food, emphasizing sustainability as a way of life.

“We have two chickens in the back for eggs, and everything in the front garden and on the roof top garden is edible,” Sam Glassberg said.

According to her son, Debbie Glassberg is working to expand the local presence of shipping containers.

“My mother is working with BNIM, a local architecture firm, to design shipping container stores and restaurants in Kansas City,” he said.

The Glassbergs are optimistic about a bright future for shipping container architecture.

Shipping containers can be used as quick and affordable housing for natural disaster victims or for developing countries. Innovative and creative thinking gives hope for the future.

As the famous saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

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