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Shipping Container Student Housing


If you, like myself, think that the trend of designing buildings out of shipping containers has dragged on too long, you may be right. However, the Keetwonen student housing city in Amsterdam is worth a look.The project was designed in 2005 by Tempohousing, a modular design firm based in the Netherlands. Each 300 s.f. studio unit consists of a single shipping container (approx 8’W x 9.5’H x 40’L), divided into a sleeping/living room, kitchen/dining, and bath, with a balcony extension. The buildings are arranged in efficient, neat bars with courtyards in between, creating a mini-city of 1000 units. Interestingly, like many student housing projects, the container apartments were intended to be temporary, but have now become permanent fixtures that may never move as planned. In this case it seems more of a testament to the project’s success, rather for lack of funds to replace them with more permanent structures.

Bike parking in the courtyard. Photo credit: Creative Commons / Jesper2cv

Bike parking in the courtyard. Photo credit: Creative Commons / Jesper2cv

A writeup of the project, construction and context with production photos can be found in this paper by Caroline Uittenbroek and Will Macht: Sustainable Containers: Cost-Effective Student Housing. At the time of writing (2009), the units cost 425 Euros per month, including utilities. Today the median rent in Amsterdam is around 1000 Euros, not including utilities.

This is the second project I’ve come across from Northern Europe recently where the demand for student housing, combined with a shortage of land, has led to innovative small-house construction (see this project from Sweden too). According to Wikipedia, the demand is so high in larger cities that waiting lists for housing can be more than a year. Not being so far removed from school myself, I am envious of the attention and care university students find in other countries like Holland or Sweden, and that’s aside from their generous grants and subsidies. At least in the cities I’ve lived in while studying, the two choices outside of university-owned housing (expensive, but central) has been overcrowded, derelict, subdivided houses, or longer commutes from cheaper neighborhoods.

Photographer / Filmmaker Jeremy Beasley is documenting tiny houses and has a segment on these apartments.


Oddly, I think the furnishings shown in this particular unit go a long way to make these units seem comfortable and livable. Before watching, I expected the interior to be furnished with Ikea-style pieces to match the clean, utilitarian architecture. However, the antique desk, chair and shelves make the place seem much more personable and less sterile.

The rest of Beasley’s website is worth a look for a broad sample of small living spaces.



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