3.21.2012

visions of shipping containers danced in her head

Columbia River, Astoria, Oregon, 2011

For years now, I've had this dream of living in a set of two or three shipping containers, artfully arranged in a U or L with an inner courtyard (because I'm that kind of introvert), or maybe stacked off-center, whole ends and sides removed and replaced with expansive windows. And this is even after residing my first 16 years in a double-wide mobile home and vowing never again (unless it were a vintage Airstream, but that's another post).


Brooklyn Yard, Portland, OR

Many have talked elsewhere about the benefits of this type of re-purposing. Shipping containers past their ocean-voyaging lifespan (which is about one trip since it's cheaper to buy new than ship them back to China empty) need a place to retire. Like the baby boomers, they're still tough and sturdy and hard to blow over. They come with graphics and real-time weathering. If one lives near an international port, they can be bought cheap, under $2,000 each. The buyer only needs a plot of land, a thorough understanding of local building codes, some serious construction skills (e.g., sandblasting, welding), and maybe a hazmat suit.


train to truck, Brooklyn Yard, Portland, OR

What's wrong with the existing housing market, one might ask? Most people live in secondhand homes built and lived in by other people first, right? The answers for me are cost, cost, and cost. I have no desire to pay down a 30-year mortgage after saving for years for a meager down payment. And I, like most commoners, can't drop hundreds of thousands of dollars upfront for a set of house keys. Let's be frank—people who "own" houses in the U.S. are actually leasing-to-own since, truly, for most of the mortgage years, the bank owns the puppy and woe be to the mortgagee who happens on hard times. She might end up sleeping in her baby-boomer parents' spare bedroom or in a cardboard box under a bridge, thanks to current economic conditions wrought by global finance, paid-off politicians, and decent Americans who've been spending too much time a) working, b) watching reality TV, and c) remodeling their kitchens and bathrooms piece-by-piece from Home Depot.

It's not so much that I yearn to live in a long rectangle again, but that it seems a way for the rectangle to be mine in a way a typical American house could never be. Yes, ancient DIY home-building methods like adobe and straw bale are options. Yes, modernists have played around with prefab steel, aluminum, and glass. Yes, there are tiny houses the size of some people's closets. I own a copy of Dwellings by Paul Oliver, a classic text about the many different types of structures people inhabit around the world; I should probably read it.


parked shipping container, Happy Valley, OR

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