container pavilion lets it all hang out

Shipping containers have a fundamental flaw when turned into buildings: they are narrow inside. So designers often cut out the sides. Or they cut out the ends to get big windows. Or they cut out the floor to get double height spaces. Soon they are like the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland, which gradually disappears until there is nothing left but a smile. Alice notes that "she has often seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat"

Now designboom shows this design for a pavilion in Dongshan, Shanxi Province, China by People's Architecture Office. There is little left of the shipping containers but a smile, a visual form outside that looks very much like a bunch of shipping containers just hanging out. Hanging way out on some wild cantilevers, often with no visible means of support.

There is weirdness in the double layers, the two corner castings on top of each other, as if they have cut the floor off one shipping container and stuck it on top of the other. This may be a clever way of hiding insulation between, although it is one giant thermal bridge. Winters in Shanxi are described as "long, hard and cold" so let's hope there is insulation and heating.

The great virtue of shipping containers is that they are easy to move, and this building is "conceived as a temporary structure that can be readily disassembled", and relocated to other destinations. We can only take them at their word, but these do not look like your usual stacked shipping container connections.

The most remarkable thing about this project is the incredible cantilevering of boxes; shipping containers are really strong at the corners, not so strong anywhere else. That's why containers with fork lift pockets have big signs saying "DO NOT LIFT WHEN FULL" because they would just bend- they are designed be picked up and stacked from the corner castings and corner posts. There is some serious steel hidden in these boxes to let them do this- the kind of steel that again makes me dubious that this could be taken apart without some serious torching and cutting.



Simon Lunt