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Monday, August 02, 2010

Book Review: Container Atlas

Container Atlas: A Practical Guide to Container Architecture edited by by H. Slawik, J. Bergmann, M. Buchmeier, S. Tinney
Gestalten, 2010
Hardcover, 256 pages

Anybody paying attention to contemporary architecture knows containers are quite popular, especially the reuse of industrial shipping containers for everything from installations and showrooms to residences and offices. But like any material or system used in architecture, there is a learning curve to its application, so in many cases one container project begets another. Firms like LOT-EK have made a career from their use, exploiting the potential of the inexpensive, standardized components. In Europe, Han Slawik has created a number of container buildings, and his monograph on them expanded into Container Atlas, a great collection of container architecture around the globe. But instead of just collecting some experimental architecture, Slawik and the other editors also give a general but thorough background on containers and guidelines for their use. So the book is a very good resource for creating more container architecture, not just a coffee table book for looking at it. While it does not include the technical details to make it a single resource for such buildings, it does give enough information on the building blocks to help determine if using containers is desirabel or feasible.
Of course it is the photos of completed projects that steer architects and their clients towards using containers. The selection here is thorough and especially varied, surprising when one considers the consistency of the modules used; many projects use the containers that ship goods from China to the rest of the world. This variety can be partially attributed to the fact that as modules for buildings, containers are incomplete; they need to be cut open, combined, reconfigured, and layered with other materials (usually inside) to become viable environments. Most projects still say "I'm made with shipping containers," indicating one reason they are used: pride with reusing an industrial artifact and therefore expressing that fact. The buildings collected here don't appear to be arranged with any rhyme or reason. They are not grouped like other collections of contemproary architecture, nor is there a chronological ordering that traces the evolution of container architecture in its so far brief existence. Nevertheless some themes and overlap appear: containers are appealing as temporary structures; as prefab modules, containers are feasible for remote locations; standard container sizes work well for domestic spaces; and they are fashionable with certain brands looking to make a statement. The more containers are used and accepted in architecture, the more these themes will broaden, and the projects here point to a promising future.

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