Shipping containers might not be the most practical way to build a skyscraper, but at least they’re plentiful, especially in a port city like Mumbai.
That was the thinking behind a new clever design that recently won an architectural competition for skyscraper designs for the Indian megacity. The design, created by architect Shekar Ganti, uses a supporting structure to house eight unit-high stacks of containers. It’s like boxes stacked on shelves, with all the cabling, pipework and stairwells running through the central pillar.
“Mumbai is a big port with easy availability of shipping containers,” says Ganti. “India has many other ports from where the containers can be easily purchased and re-purposed for modular housing.”
One housing unit is made from three standard containers, and these containers are bolted into place. It’s not all steel in there though. Outdoor corridors are lined with reclaimed, locally made terracotta jalis, which are perforated clay bricks that shade the corridors but let air waft through.
The building would also use solar panels and wind turbines to create its own power, and dwellings are fitted with LED lighting. Ganti notes that sustainable buildings are usually expensive to construct, with the savings coming over the long term. By contrast, this container-based design is both cheap to put up and cheap to run. It is also narrow, making it a good fit for the cramped streets of the Dharavi district in the center of Mumbai. Dharavi is a huge slum, housing an estimated 300,000 to 1 million people over 535 acres.
There are a few practical problems with the design. According to Treehugger’s Lloyd Alter, containers must be stacked “on their corner castings; the monocoque is not strong enough to support another container on top.” That rules out the staggered stacks used by Ganti. The containers may also be too small to house double beds with room to walk around them. But the contest specified shipping containers as a material, and they are what they are.
The list of the other winning entries is worth a look, too. It runs from the post-apocalyptic, through conventional designs that could be mistaken for regular buildings, to the amazing fantasy giant-Jenga design from Carlos R. Gomez, complete with rotor-equipped flying containers.