ISBU prefab outsourced to China?

repost from bitchin architecture

Over at Treehugger there is an article about a Canadian firm, Meka, that has outsourced their prefab container homes to China.

image courtesy of inhabitat via treehugger

What I’m thinking is…..WHY?  There are literally thousands of shipping containers sitting unused right here on our own shores in port cities spanning both coasts.  Why would you outsource to China?

image courtesy of inhabitat via treehugger

Obviously cost would be the biggest issue, since everything coming out of China these days is cheaper.  But is it a better quality product?  Treehugger gets the last word with this brilliant line: “Modern prefab is now affordable, but at what cost.”

image courtesy of inhabitat via treehugger

6 thoughts on “ISBU prefab outsourced to China?

  1. This is quite the elegant box, nice job MEKA. We would love to hear more about the realities of building in china and shipping to the America. Do they build to local codes and have they permitted and installed a home in the USA? How do they make a thermally conductive structure such as steel energy efficient? What is a typical total project cost? People thought construction would be the last bastion of “Made in America”, is that now at risk also?
    Matthew Stannard
    Founder and CEO
    Stillwater Dwellings

    • Matthew, thanks for your comments. I’m not familiar with the details of prefab construction outsourcing to China other than knowing the practice exists. I’m sure any designs would need to be stamped for approval in whatever locale they’d be assembled. As for insulating a shipping container, that’s not as difficult as you would think. Using closed cell spray foam insulation on the outside of the container not only insulates the building but also breaks the thermal bridge (I defer to Alex Klein on this one at Construction costs can vary depending on the level of finish materials, but since the container is your structure and sheathing and requires only exterior insulation you’re already ahead of the cost curve. Containers are abundant and relatively inexpensive to purchase and ship.
      I’ve taken a look at your site. You’ve got some nice work. Using shipping containers as construction blocks for your prototypes would be very easy if you were so inclined.

  2. Having tried many alternate building products and systems in my career I’m beginning to wonder if maybe its time to appreciate the forgotten and overlooked advantages of the good old 2×4.
    A wall has to do many things from being a weather barrier to being a conduit for electrical and plumbing systems to withstanding ever stringent structural demands.
    As a system the 2x wall has had many small incremental improvements (take the Simpson products for example). Getting creative with building systems as architects are want to do (guilty your honor) leads to a multitude of untended consequences.
    We at Stillwater Dwellings have instead, taken the attitude of maximizing, to the hilt, wood frame construction.

    Matthew Stannard
    Stillwater Dwellings

    • any product used in building construction has it’s benefits and limitations. the trick is to maximize benefits and minimize limitations and/or consequences of a given material. One of the truly enjoyable things I find about architecture and as an architect is the ability to take something like a shipping container or a 2×4, and using that “building block” create a unique piece of architecture that is functional and beautiful.

  3. I recently got this comment from an anonymous reader a few days ago and thought it was worth publishing with my own comments at the bottom:
    “I spoke with the guy behind the ISBU publicity stunt in NY.
    They say that a sucker is born every minute and apparently this guy thought they were hanging out in “the city” looking for boxes they had no place to put.
    He goes on about some film director that feigned interest in the homes but it didn’t pan out, But mentioning the film guy publicly DID drive the media to talk about the “temporary exhibition.”
    He’s really clueless, and the outsourcing thing just drives that home further.
    A critic would say that the diminished labor costs would drive the idea, but I have to think that the shipping costs would overshadow it.
    And you’re right. We could do it here, with containers located HERE, much cheaper.”
    End Quote
    The writer will remain anonymous to protect the innocent. My own personal reaction is that when you begin “outsourcing” manufacturing and construction assembly in favor of price, what are you really saving on? We have thousands, if not millions, of containers right here on our own shores. We have drywall, lumber, paint, insulation and cladding distributors right here in the good ole US of A – what reason could you possibly have for shipping the manufacture of a container home overseas only to have it shipped back to you for assembly on site? This is akin to me driving to another state to go to walmart to save $5 on an item I found cheaper than the same one at my local walmart – no sense whatsoever. If the goal is really affordable modular/container homes then using local construction and materials will always win out not to mention the reduction in time required for shipping and delivery, customs, building code inspection, etc.
    While the quoted comment may seem “inflammatory” or “overly critical”, I happen to agree and think that some truly don’t think things through before jumping on the bandwagon. It’s sad too, because the temporary installation is quite beautifully designed and could make a good prototype for further exploration.

  4. Wow your commentary really rang true for me.

    I would accept that these designs are quite “elegant” to look at but there are so many reasons that this is bad idea I was shocked it got picked up without critical review by the “green” building blogs.

    Haven’t they heard of embodied energy ? I am a huge huge fan of container homes, in fact I run a blog that teaches people to build their own home out of Shipping Containers but where I start is displacing the “myths” and “misunderstandings” about container homes and perhaps two of the biggest is that they are “cheap to build” and inherently “green” – container homes are a good framework around which to base this discussion but they should never be considered green by default.

    There are a ton of architects and builders doing this, building on brand new containers and shipping them from China and this practice is in my opinion about as green “unfriendly” as you can get.

    One day the US is going to wake up and there will be no jobs left, oh and BTW I am not an American.

    I have an hour of free video over at for anyone interested in more information.

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