Cargo containers are stacked in every port of the world, which has made them tempting as low-cost, prefab building material. (Even Starbucks and Taco Bell have experimented with repurposing cargo containers for their stores.) But none of these ideas has been quite as bold–or as tall–as the Container Scraper, a twisting, 1,300-foot skyscraper proposed by CRG Architects for the Dharavi Slum of Mumbai. It stacks 2,344 containers of various sizes to house approximately 5,000 people. But most amazingly, it looks like somewhere you might actually want to live.
Rather than creating a traditional, rectangular-base building, the containers were arranged in a spiraling, circular panel to maximize their exposure to light. What looks like a random arrangement is actually a mathematical model that integrates the use of differently sized containers as each successive floor shrinks. But CRG left large, intentional gaps left in the facade, creating green terraces for residents to enjoy, while opening the entire building up for a natural, cooling airflow.
Because containers can only be stacked about nine high before their own structures are yield to the weight, the building relies on a central, concrete spire to hold everything together, along with additional concrete supports that are sandwiched in periodically between the floors to reinforce the otherwise precarious stack.
Of course, even though containers are prefabricated insta-rooms, it doesn’t mean that they’re a completely turnkey building material. Each used container has to be certified for its structure integrity, and they often has to be stripped of internal wood flooring, while scrubbed of their industrial level pesticides that keep critters out of your goods–all before being retrofit with piping, ventilation, windows, and electrical lines. Even still, CRG estimates that their skyscraper could be built for about ⅓ of the price of a more traditional one. And when you get into their real pie-in-the-sky ideas, like that the containers could be lifted into place by small teams of drones, it seems not so crazy that we’ll build skyscrapers out of a teetering pile of metal boxes, but perhaps inevitable.