Thursday, February 04, 2010

Living in Containers

Last night my friend and old CCNY classmate Matt informed me about NYIT professor Michele Bertomen's house under construction in Williamsburg. The distinctive design at 351 Keap Street (address via Curbed) is certainly one to consider for my guidebook to NYC contemporary architecture, because it's a project actually built from stacked shipping containers, not just envisioned and unbuilt, as so many designers have tried to realize shipping container architecture in recent years.

[351 Keap Street by Michele Bertomen | image source]

Proposals for New York City have typically fallen into the unbuilt category, such as David Wallance Architect's proposal for 372 Lafayette Street in NoHo...

[372 Lafayette Street by David Wallance Architect | image source]

... or this striking design I showed on this blog almost six years ago, in regards the popularity of designing with shipping containers. Shigeru Ban's Nomadic Museum falls into the built category, but the temporary structure only stayed in New York City for a little while, getting shipped to another destination after its run. LOT-EK has built a number of small, mainly interior commissions using shipping containers -- and almost single-handedly fostered the craze of container architecture -- but now they are trying to do the same on a much larger scale with their Pier 57 proposal. Even I worked on a proposal for a Chelsea rooftop residence to be built from two stacked shipping containers. As far as I know the design was not realized and probably won't be in the future.

The Bertomen project has come to fruition probably due to its scale and location; it uses only five containers and it is not sited in Manhattan. Right now the design basically looks like two stacks of shipping containers, though I'm hoping when it is done it appears more architectural. Architects should tap into the inherent advantages of these industrial objects (cheapness, durability, reusability) while managing to design around their disadvantages (industrial appearance, size constraints, cold interior). Making them habitable involves more than just shipping and stacking.