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Containers solution to the housing crisis

There is a housing crisis in the UK. Do containers present a possible solution?

There is little doubt that the UK housing market is a mess. Housebuilding is on a long term downward trend and completions are at a disgraceful level. Fortunes are being spent on Emergency Accommodation by local authorities while a multi action legal case is building against these same authorities for breaching the 6 week B&B law.

The problem – reflective of a general increase in wealth inequality – is it is extremely hard for any young person today to get on the housing ladder without parental help. A lack of supply and diversity has pushed prices (to rent and buy) out of the reach of many, with an inevitable outcome, Shelter found more than 75,000 households to be homeless in 2011/12 with more than 50,000 households currently living in temporary accommodation in England alone. Unfortunately, for too long now government and local authorities busy themselves and external consultants with reports but very little change ever emerges.

Two projects; YMCA London and QED / Brighton Housing Trust have caught the media’s eye as grassroots organisations look for practical, affordable and quick solutions to the mounting problem of homelessness and the lack of suitable temporary housing.

So where so do containers fit into all this? Well, containers offer a highly transportable, modular, affordable and plentiful (in the west anyway) supply of what are essentially large lego bricks or building blocks. Containers can be used to build quickly, a range of structures from a very temporary shelter through to a sophisticated permanent home; Infiniski Manifesto House, Chile and lots in-between. In fact, it might surprise you that containers, one of the starkest symbols of consumerism and globalisation, maintain a number of the characteristics you might look for in a sustainable building block – appropriate size and scale, a modular nature, compatibility with off site construction methods, easily transportable with standardised equipment at low cost, low embodied energy, durable, adaptable, quick to build, de-constructable and suitable for re-use.

For me there is no doubt that container architecture has a significant role to play in diversifying our built environment. However, I do not think that there is any question that the temporary provision of moveable container accommodation such as the project I am involved in is any more than a part fix not a solution. We expect our simple interim fix on land that would otherwise sit idle, to show what is possible, become a well functioning development and a positive demonstration tool for temporary accommodation in the UK.

In terms of solving the wider problem, I’d like to see the introduction of a much simplified outline planning system that encourages better design and removes a lot of the cost and bureaucracy from the process, together with an acceptance and recognition of the valuable role temporary or interim use has to play in urban development.

QED topples Dunster
Brighton shipping containers installation - week 1