Shipping containers were originally developed in the 1950s to revolutionize the industries related to shipping and transport. These containers provided a convenient and efficient means of transporting items from one location to another. Crews no longer need to manually move the crates one by one and the shipping containers facilitated a batched transport of hundreds and thousands.
In 1987, the potential in movable cubicles to be transformed into something else came up through a US patent. These corrugated steel boxes were seen more than being a closed container for shipping. A patent was filed in the US for the methods that will convert steel containers from shipping and transport into habitable structure. The diagrams and methodologies in the documented patent now appear to form the basic foundation of current architectural ideas on cubicles and containers.
Early architecture on movable cubicles are done outside the closed space of the container. Two or more cubicles are usually placed close to each other, and then a covering is placed on top to form the roof. The spaces formed in between the cubicles serve as the movement area as the interior of the container is very limited.
In the modern world, shipping containers abound in different places in the world. Once a container has been used to ship products to another location, companies usually become hesitant to ship it back to its origin as shipping an empty container is very expensive. Mores, buying a new container can be a cheaper alternative than shipping an empty container. As a result, empty containers are being left unused. To lessen the environmental impact of leaving empty containers, people have come up with the idea of developing these cubicles into houses and even cities. In 2006, the first two-storey structure in the US made from cubicle and was approved by the building code has been designed in Southern California. There are also container cities in the world like Trinity Buoy Wharf in London, and Keetwonen Student Housing in Amsterdam.
Transforming cubicles and containers into houses got attention throughout the world mainly because of its durability, lower construction turnaround, cost, and eco-friendliness. Not only the empty containers are being recycled, but also the container framework minimizes the need for environmentally damaging and heavy concrete foundation. However, some are also arguing the benefits of using movable cubicles as houses, and says that it brings more environmental damage than good.
These cubicles are basically shipping containers designed to withstand external factors during an ocean transport. With this, cubicles have a special coating to make it durable against sea water. The coating is composed of ingredients like chromate, phosphorous, and lead-based substances. These ingredients are harmful to both environment and human health. The wood flooring used in containers were also treated with arsenic and chromium pesticides to make sure that the container will not be breeding ground for pests during transport.
Some also says that while containers can be a low energy and eco-friendly alternative in building houses, the supporting methodologies needed to make the containers habitable produces more ecological waste. The containers cannot be used as it is. It needs to be treated first with different methodologies. The container needs to be stripped bare through sandblasting and replace its pesticide-infused wood flooring. Openings and windows must be cut with torch. With these methodologies, one container will eventually produce bigger amount of waste before it becomes suitable for structuring.
Another issue is insulation. Since movable cubicles are made from steel, it conducts heat and cold very well leaving its interior either very cold in winter or very hot in summer. Thus, higher energy consumption is needed to keep the cubicle at a liable temperature.