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Machine for Living Many

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This post applies the lessons of the previous post to construct the proposal of the post two before, and with minimal customizations and operations.

Apartment parts (makes two apartments)

6 x 20 ft (6 m) shipping containers
2 containers for living/dining/kitchen
2 containers for two bedrooms
1 container (half-shared with another apartment) for bathroom
1 container for access corridor (shared by all)
4 stair units (each half-shared with another apartment)
Kitchen and bathroom fixtures and fittings


CONTAINER 1: Corridor
The first and most basic container is the access corridor. It has all walls removed, but roofs of corridors on upper levels will be fitted with balustrades. This is the variation with the roof removed and which is used for uppermost levels as a thermal and acoustic barrier.

CONTAINER 3: Living Room Outer
These have one wall removed while the opposite wall has two full-height openings for windows. All living rooms face south these openings are next to the end walls to reflect SE and SW light deeper into the room. Windows are at the ends of the wall to bounce east and west sunlight deeper into the room.

CONTAINER 5: Bedrooms Outer
This is the same as Living Room Outer except for a partition dividing it in two halfway across its width. The single windows are in the middle of the walls for more uniform illumination and greater furniture layout flexibility.

CONTAINER 4: Living Room Inner
This has the same base as Living Room Outer but the openings also have L-shaped door recesses, one of which has the entrance door. The kitchen fits between these two recesses. A window is added to the kitchen wall

CONTAINER 6: Bedrooms Inner
This is the same base configuration as Living Room Inner except the L-shaped door recesses are now inverted and the swing of the door reversed to open outwards. The other half of the bedroom partition is added, along with another partition wall containing the bedroom doors. (Sliding doors not unlike Japanese fusuma could be used instead of this wall.)

CONTAINER 3: Bathroom
This begins with four end openings for the stairs to connect. Between these openings on each side are two small windows, two for each bathroom formed by a party wall dividing the container midway along its length. An internal wall and door separate each bathroom from its corridor.

Type and No. of Customizations

Making two apartments requires ten customizations and 45 operations.

#CustomizationCont. 1
Cont. 2
Cont. 3
Cont. 4
Cont. 5
Cont. 6
1Remove walls*142111110
2Wall end openings*2 4222212
3Tall windows224
4Bathroom windows44
5Corridor/kitchen window112
6Bathroom party wall11
7Partitions with doors224
8L-shaped door recess2*324
10Bedroom partition wall1*512
1 Removing a wall whether short or long is counted as one
2 Making a window opening an installing a window are counted separately
3 The L-shaped recess for the entrance and exit doors is counted twice for each container even though it is the same component inverted
4 The direction of opening of the doors however, will have to be reversed.
5. I expect the bedroom partition wall to be constructed in two halves that are later joined, and so it’s counted as separate customizations of different containers.


The ground level will have stairs from level 0.0 to level 0.5 but all other stair units will be used as both internal stairs and external stairs whether up or down, or to an entrance or from a fire escape. With actual construction, the stair units would be placed as the assembly rises but I will describe them separately as they’re not a container customization but a separate design element that can be incrementally and independently optimized. This is the geometry. Ground level and uppermost storey stairs will have only the bottom or top staircases, respectively.

A competent carpenter could make it but I imagine them fabricated from sheet metal. It may even be possible to have them 3D printed one day but, in the meantime, some sort of weatherproof cladding over a steel frame seems likely. The external stair will have railings and the internal one will have windows. Structurally, the stairs cantilever from a central spine connected to the corner couplings but the staircase could rest top and bottom on the containers and secured only by the container corner couplings.


So let’s start building because over here we’ve got one big all-terrain crane and a load of 360 minimally-customized containers and 72 stair units. A container ship carrying 20,000 containers can be unloaded in several hours. Let’s give ourselves one week to put this thing together.

We start with a Corridor container (#1) on a foundation designed to suit the intended load and soil bearing capacity. As with a ship’s deck, it’s important that the surface not deform and the containers be properly secured. I’m assuming a suitably reinforced concrete pad with standard container mountings inset.

On the south side and at the appropriate distance (determined by the stair unit) are a Living Room Inner container (#4) and a Living Room Outer container (#3) secured to half-height containers. On the north side, and again half a level up, are a Bedroom Inner container (#6) and a Bedroom Outer container (#5). We now have the living/dining/kitchen of an up-going apartment and the bedrooms of a down-going apartment.

Raising the habitable room portions of the project half a level up is probably a job for concrete columns and not customized half-height containers. I may be laying myself open to accusations of prioritizing style over content, at least from anyone who still sees a distinction between the two. Others may say those customized half-height containers that prioritize style over content are the only piece of architecture this building will have. They‘re probably not wrong saying that.

Moving on, a Bathroom container (#2) goes on top of the Corridor container (#1). Staircase units are fitted.

This is followed by another Living Inner (#4) and Living Outer (#3) on top of the previous Living Inner and Living Outer, and and another Bedroom Inner (#6) and Bedroom Outer (#5) going on top of the Bedroom Inner and Bedroom Outer already placed. These are, respectively, the living/dining/kitchen for the down-going apartment and the bedrooms for the up-going apartment.

Finally, another Corridor (#1) container is placed above the Bathroom container (#2) to serve as the access corridor for the down-going apartment and the fire-escape corridor for the up-going apartment.

This two-story module is repeated both horizontally and vertically seven times. The major difference between shipping containers in the wild and the domesticated ones is that the latter mostly encloses space that weights nothing. It may be possible to have stacks of more than ten.

Shipping containers have no one colour. The colours of this demonstration proposal are only intended to represent colours as-obtained – such as with the Frietag store. For this demonstration, I created six colours called A, A-, B+, B, B- and C, and then used a grading dice (given to me as a joke) to randomize them even though all containers don’t travel independently and an authentic distribution of container colours is never entirely random.

Access corridors are extended to receive the cage elevators and open fire escape stairs. Floor-only containers form an additional environmental barrier (and dragon diversion) on the uppermost floors. The row of floor only containers above the bathrooms is reserved for water tanks and various mechanical equipment. This is the building on the living room side, with railings fitted,

still waiting for those stairs and elevators to arrive1

The bedroom side.

The bathroom containers, corridor containers and roof containers could be delivered with railings already fitted but it might be more prudent to fit them later. Apart from the elevators and fire escape stairs, all that remains to be done is to attach and connect services and utilities.


This was never about containers specifically as any unit-based construction system is a good idea. But this post brings to a close, at least for the time being, a series of posts containing proposals for getting more benefit from apartment access corridors by making them open to daylight and fresh air, by making people inside apartments more aware of them, and by making the life of apartments more apparent to corridor users. Going down from an access path to one set of habitable rooms and going up to another is not a new idea. The New York brownstone and the London Georgian terrace do just that.

The sidewalk/footpath is the best part of a city and these two historic housing solutions both do the same thing. They take the best part of a city and repeat it. Repeatedly. Whether constructed from shipping containers or not, the access corridors of this proposal are actually worthy of being called streets in the sky for they take the best part of the city and multiply it vertically, unlike these next two celebrated projects that multiply only those parts from which private gain can be extracted.



  • I have previously wondered whether it would be feasible to make shipping containers that are specifically designed to be converted to housing (although I’m not sure what modifications would make the most difference, e.g. pre-installing insulation or designing the structure to allow for openings to be cut without reinforcement). So they get used for shipping goods for one journey only and then converted.

    • says:

      Yes, human-friendly insulation would help, but it would also mean another level of redundancy in the meantime. Not much container architecture seems to make use of their significant structural redundancy. You’re right about the structural design though. The frame does most of the lifting but the walls can’t be insignificant. In addition to keeping the number and complexity of customization processes low, this is why I was reluctant to make bigger or contritely aesthetic openings. It would be great if a shipping container was easily repurposeable as soon as it was in a place where it needed to be but places with a deficit of housing (China, US) are also nett exporters with a deficit of containers. Your idea would work at ports of countries that are net importers. Then the only problem is who is going to pay how much for these multifunctional containers because countries and companies don’t gift each other housing. It’s an interesting thought though. A commodity with potential for housing is still a marketable commodity. You’ve got me wondering too now.

  • bravo! i retract what i said last week. the way you have hot-rodded each box and configured the superstructure, is architecturally better than what’s out there. now, where’s the leasing office?