The construction of a four-story student building in Berkeley, California was recently completed in record time – just four days. This high-speed achievement was mainly due to the technique used: modular assembly. In recent years, the number of architectural projects based on the use of containers has been rising. The way modular units can be built on top of one another and easily dismantled at high speed has led to their growing popularity in Europe, where they are often used as studios or student accommodation. More recent uses include hotel rooms and automated unattended vending spaces. Another interesting feature of the newly-completed Berkeley building has to do with its origin: its 22 residential units were manufactured in China. Located just ten minutes on foot from the city centre and the university campus, the new residential block – into which the first student residents will be moving over the next few weeks – is the very first all-steel modular building shipped over from China for erection in the United States. Local entrepreneur Patrick Kennedy had the units sent by ship from Hong Kong to Oakland, from where they were transported to Berkeley by lorry and – also noteworthy – it was this second leg of the journey that proved the more expensive! Kennedy's firm Panoramic Interests already hit the headlines a couple of years ago by providing prefabricated dwellings for the homeless in San Francisco. It may well be that shipping containers are set to reinvent public housing and communal living, as the lower construction costs of this type of dwelling result in a more affordable purchase price or monthly rental. It remains to be seen however whether this approach will catch on in Smart Cities around the world.
By Marie-Eléonore Noiré