A couple of years ago I became interested in modular and container housing and construction. At the time I was in the relative beginning of practicing architecture as an intern and research into new, exciting areas of architecture was….well, exciting. Even now I love to learn new things, new materials, new techniques and, if you read a recent post, new technologies like BIM and IPD. And all in the pursuit of architecture as a profession, as an art and as a passion.
In investigating first modular construction and then upcycling containers it invariably led me to look around at the current state of housing (as this was my main focus in research) with a critical eye to analyze what was being built at the time. What I began to see, and had on some level noticed all along, is that our housing stock was INSANELY over sized for the use it was serving. Your typical nuclear family of Mom, Dad and 1.5 children do not need the kinds of monstrous and disgustingly over designed homes that were and are available. More importantly they don’t need the mortgages that come along with these homes – hence the current mortgage and finance crisis we find ourselves in today.
For so many years the “bigger is better” market mentality has been fed by supermarket-style developers and those in favor of the suburbs and SUVs. This has led to a housing stock of very low quality, now very low value, and of a style and design that a new generation of homeowner sees for the truth that it is – WASTE. Space, and therefore money, is wasted at every turn. Looking at your life critically and without the pop culture blinders on, ask yourself if you really need a living room that can comfortably seat 50 or an eat in kitchen plus a formal dining room that looks onto a covered patio with outdoor kitchen. Then we’re faced with the typical design of sleeping and bathing spaces. How much time do you spend in your bedroom? Are you a hermit or hiding from the law? If so, then you probably need a deep dark cave to crawl into at the end of your day. Otherwise I’m thinking your bathroom and bedrooms are mostly functional rather than being “living” spaces.
Applying these observations to modular and container construction, the obvious lesson to learn is that we spend a great deal of energy, resources and money on homes that are much larger than required and even in their nature require a great deal of square footage with no real function or purpose (think about those long dark corridors and circulation spaces that are “in between” the actual functional spaces of a home).
In answer to this observation, modular and container construction offer a clear solution. By their very nature, a reduction of overall living square footage and a shift in the way we think about the usability (i.e. multi-functionality) of space is required. It’s about starting from a minimum requirement and building into it as function and lifestyle dictate.
How do you feel about modular and container housing? Is it a fad, a passing phase, a “niche”? Or do you see a changing mood in architecture today to reduce size and increase use?