The Promises and Limitations of Modular Housing

Converted shipping containers offer the promise of fast construction and low costs, but face regulatory and accessibility challenges.

1 minute read

November 23, 2023, 7:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Rendering of three-story shipping container modular building for affordable housing in Watts, Los Angeles.

Rendering of Watts Works complex in Los Angeles, California. | Watts Works / Modular housing

A Los Angeles affordable housing project offers a model for using modular shipping containers to build low-cost housing units, but also highlights the challenges faced by builders using unconventional materials and methods.

As Sam Lubell explains in Metropolis Magazine, the project, called Watts Works, features 24 studio housing units and a manager’s apartment. “The complex also includes a community room, laundry room, service provider offices, and bicycle parking, not to mention a tranquil rear patio and a sunny rooftop deck.”

The project’s builder says the unconventional methods cost 10 to 15 percent less than traditional materials. However, bureaucratic hurdles made the project take longer than expected.

Modular building using shipping containers is not a new concept. From temporary shelters to as-yet-unbuilt architectural trophies, the versatile, durable containers offer tempting advantages over conventional building materials. Earlier this year, the city of Phoenix opened a modular shelter unit at the Washington Relief Center equipped with private, air-conditioned rooms that can sleep up to 20 people.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023 in Metropolis Mag

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