Shipping containers, in their current form, have been around since the 1950’s. Initially used for international ocean freight, train freight and occasional storage, the humble shipping container is essentially the strongest box in the world. Over the last decade, these containers have become popular for a range of construction uses from schools to retail units, youth centres to high-end yacht clubs. In fact, in 2006, the Chelsea Farmers Market in London unveiled their container extension to much amazement. Unsurprisingly, this global housing and architectural trend has spread to Ireland, however, despite many on-going attempts and student projects nationwide, there are no registered shipping container homes within the Republic of Ireland. Not yet.
This situation looks set to change with a groundbreaking build taking place in Dublin next week. Project RIPPLE, a collaboration of 60 construction professionals, trades people and businesses from across Ireland, will descend upon the grounds of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, or IMMA, in Kilmainham to create Ireland’s very first fully-compliant, shipping container home.
The three-day build will start on Thursday 27th November and run until Saturday 29th. Over the course of these three days, the volunteer team will convert a disused container into a beautifully designed, small home. On day four of the build, Sunday 30th November, the fully completed home will be donated to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to support their work with the homeless. It is envisioned that this new home will be located at the charity’s current homeless hostel in Deerpark, Cork, subject to site suitability and local planning approval. This hostel currently provides shelter and emergency accommodation to homeless men across Cork. It is hoped that the unit will become a home for people in need in time for Christmas.
The use of converted shipping containers to provide emergency accommodation is not unheard of; Australia started using these dwellings in 2007. This has to be good news following a week of reports about the rise in homelessness in Ireland and the doubling of the number of families in emergency accommodation since last year. This project will take one person or family off that list. While one is not a big number it is an important place to start.
Project RIPPLE has been in the works for more than two years, lead by architect Derek Trenaman of Ceardean Design & Construction, in association with Buyers Broker International. While the initial aim was to come up with a low-cost model of housing, that could be rolled out quickly and without the long lead-in time that traditional housing requires, it became clear that there were a number of challenges unique to building such structures in Ireland. Not least, the climate in Ireland demands a greater level of insulation, and given the size of the container, this needed to be achieved on the exterior rather than the interior of the unit. In terms of sustainability, this project is the ultimate in recycling, or ‘upcycling’. The core structure is a box that would otherwise be considered defunct. By its careful and creative conversion, it can now provide a comfortable and beautiful home that is energy efficient. Derek Trenaman confirmed that ”Our aim from the start has been to achieve passive or near passive home. We are working with Hugh Whiriskey of Partel an air tightness test and Heat Recovery specialist and Mark Shirley of 2eva who will undertake periodic air tightness tests, our aim is to achieve an air tightness of 0.5 air changes per hour and insulation levels that will meet the passive house standards.”
Also, during those two years of planning, the general property market recovered at a pace much quicker than expected and this eliminated many sites and opportunities that were thought to be available at the outset. While difficult for the project, the rapidly rising house and apartment prices reinforced the need for a low cost model for housing, particularly in the capital. Perhaps the greatest challenge was the introduction of new, more onerous building regulations in early 2014, which meant increased compliance issues and with that, increased costs for all self-builders.
With each new challenge came a new solution and over the many months, the design plan changed and evolved. A 45ft container initially provided for to create a two-bedroom home proved elusive so the current 40ft container will now be developed into a one-bedroom home.
What was expected to be the greatest obstacle – budget – proved not to be; the total budget and spend for this project is €0. This is not a typo. RIPPLE has no budget and no bank account. The entire project has been driven by a core team who reached out to contacts within the building industry, who in turn reached out to their suppliers. Every element of this build has been donated or sponsored, from the container itself to the state-of-the-art energy technology. Every person working on the build from the carpenter to the graffiti artist is doing this in a voluntary capacity. The industry support has been amazing. The property industry in Ireland has seen its reputation dented harshly over the past decade and yet, despite a year of difficult trading, over 60 businesses have come together and given what they can to ensure that one additional home is available for Christmas.
But altruism is not the primary driver when we examine the rise in container living across the world. People are choosing to live in a different way. Simply put, innovation within the property market in Ireland has not kept pace with changing global trends, for example, people are moving away from the notion of permanency or lifetime debt. In a more moveable society, we need more flexible approaches for home ownership. A low cost model of sustainable housing was inevitable after the property market crash; this is simply one potential solution in a country where we have sufficient space to accommodate different lifestyle choices.
Project updates are available on-line at www.facebook.com/RIPPLEcontainerhomes
The entire build is open to the public and free to attend from 10am to 5pm daily, Thursday 27th to Sunday 30th November. It is being filmed for a documentary on shipping container homes and the Container Home manual (published via ROARLondon) will be available from May 2015.