Architects have criticised converting shipping containers into accommodation for the homeless after a report revealed the trend was gaining popularity among councils
The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said it was a ‘scandal’ that councils were using the containers as temporary housing.
The report, which estimates 210,000 children are currently homeless, also tells of families living in converted office blocks and squeezed into tiny flats.
In addition to shipping containers, the report also highlighted the issue of office to residential conversions, where disused blocks –often in industrial areas – are converted into housing under permitted development rights (PDR).
Longfield said it was sad and surprising to learn of the new developments councils were turning to in order to deal with the problem.
These, she said, included ‘office block conversions, in which whole families live in single rooms barely bigger than a parking space, and shipping containers which are blisteringly hot in summer and freezing in the winter months.’
The report said there had been reports of shipping container projects in Bristol, Cardiff and west London, often located on ’meanwhile sites’ earmarked for future development.
While these had the benefit of being self-contained, Longfield said the units were typically not designed for children and were one or two bedroom and small in size, meaning overcrowding could be an issue.
Longfield said that, despite these issues, they continued to be an ‘attractive option’ to councils as they are less costly than ‘repeatedly paying for B&Bs’. The report said a one-bedroom shipping container cost approximately £35,000 to set up.
Recent years have seen a rise in shipping container conversion projects such as BDP’s Boxpark, where the empty vessels are used to house pop-up shops or bars on sites awaiting development.
Earlier this year, London and Berlin-based architects Patalab Architecture won approval for a nine-storey office building in Whitechapel which it claims will be, on completion, the tallest building in the world made from shipping containers.
Mach 1 Edinburgh by Dixon Jones and David Mach
Source: Assembly Studios
But shipping container homes have provoked more of a debate, with fears often raised over whether the units meet minimum space standards and have suitable daylight and insulation.
Chris Medland, of One-World Design said while he understood why some architects look at shipping containers and see their potential for reuse, ‘homes are not places within which to store people.
‘It’s not clever to take something that can do the job it’s designed for well and adapt it to do something else badly.
‘Repurposed containers for site offices, garden summer house, emergency shelters, great; for permanent housing, no.’
Levitt Bernstein’s Julia Park – who recently launched a petition against the conversion of offices to housing under permitted development rights (PDR) – said there was a danger of poor-quality temporary housing becoming normalised.
‘We need to remind ourselves (and everyone else) that none of this is normal or remotely acceptable,’ she said.
‘The long-term solution lies in building more social housing – millions, as Shelter’s cross-party report said. Meanwhile it seems pretty obvious that we need stricter regulations even for temporary housing and a finite limit on what “temporary” means’.
RIBA president Ben Derbyshire said the accommodation highlighted in the report was ‘frankly appalling’ and showed how many families were suffering as a result of the housing crisis.
He added: ‘The government and local authorities need to work together to build good-quality, safe homes so that families are not forced to live for months on end in such shockingly unsuitable environments.’
Last month Fraser Brown Mackenna Architects secured planning permission for a series of small one-bed homes made from shipping containers in the Buckinghamshire town of Aylesbury.
Backed by the Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust, the Gatehouse Road scheme was described as providing ‘low-cost homes’. Fraser Brown Mackenna was approached for comment on the report.
Section through one of Fraser Brown Mackenna’s approved shipping container homes in Aylesbury