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Portable house in containers - a curiosity or a future solution?

21 of March '22

Interview with Adam Wiercinski

Containers as a place to live
are not associated with the best. Adam Wiercinski, a Poznan architect of the younger generation, has proven otherwise. He received the Architectural Award of the Wielkopolska Region (one of two equal trophies in the " house" category) for his "portable house" in Poznań - an office and residential building made of two shipping containers . How is "portable" different from common notions of containerized construction? What are some other viable ideas for reusing forms and materials in architecture?

In an interview with A&B, Adam Wier cinski ({tag:pracownie}) brings us up to speed on the strengths of mobile projects, but also the problems that come with them.

Jakub Glaz: Is the award you received a sign that a more widespread use of modular and mobile architecture is coming ?

Adam Wiercinski: It's possible that a more systemic approach to these types of facilities is beginning to take hold. However, my activities related to them are to some extent an accident. This is largely due to investors who invited me to work with them. For many years I have been working together with Ewa and Zbyszek Łowżył, for whom I first designed Kontener Art, a place for gastronomy and culture on the Warta River in Poznań. And for several years now we have been co-creating the Szeląg Garden, also on the Warta River, but in a more secluded place - on the Szeląg. I first designed a light stationary community center there. "Portable House" is the latest creation.

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"Portable House," Poznań, Szeląg Garden, Ugory/Nadbrzeże Street, proj. Adam Wiercinski

Photo: ONI Studio

Jakub: Do you intend to create more forms of this type?

Adam: It depends on the orders. After all, I do not only deal with this type of architecture. But, in fact, I recently had the opportunity to prove myself in this area in a closed competition for a dormitory on a barge in a Polish city. What will come out of it remains to be seen. In any case, mobile architecture - from containers, but not only - costs much less than a typical developer housing. There is no need to buy a plot of land, you only have to pay a lease. And the price of adapting a square meter of container falls within the lower limits of the cost of the cheapest development project.

James: It's still not so little.

Adam: But worth considering, especially since the possibility of moving such a facility very quickly is also an advantage. On the other hand, Poles are not used to this type of solution and prefer to bind themselves to a solid object permanently fixed in the ground.

Jakub: The dismantling of a "portable house" is reportedly a few hours.

Adam: Yes. It's two containers joined by their longer sides, in which we removed the walls. All you have to do is unscrew the screws and disconnect the insulation at the junction of the two pieces. Then each container can be transported by tire to any location. It is also worth mentioning that the "mobile home" has a chance to disenchant construction with containers, which are associated with either construction sites or substandard housing for so-called difficult tenants. Thanks to the insulation of the entire "box" with spray foam and the careful finishing of all elements, it has a very good technical performance. Another advantage is a fully functional, refined interior with a truly homely atmosphere. Eve and Zbyszek are very satisfied with the winter use of their 55 sqm containerized house with a terrace. I think that this experience can be used to construct fast-paced communal housing estates or high-performance student dormitories. In Copenhagen, such a dormitory has been in operation for years and works very well. It's a mix of containers and structures made of wood and pots with greenery. Floating container housing estates are also becoming more common in Denmark.

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"Portable house", Poznań, Szeląg Garden, Ugory/Nadbrzeże Street, proj. Adam Wierciński

  1. A house in two composite containers stood on the catering facilities of Szeląg Garden. The displacement of the solids made it possible to create a terrace and an arcade. 2. projection

© wiercinski-studio

James: Anyway, the idea of modular construction is not new. A lot of such projects, prototypes and realizations have accumulated since the mid-20th century.

Adam: And yet it's still about 3 percent of the total housing and office substance. Human habits are very strong, and that's probably why it's difficult to lance well-designed, convenient modules. For now, the situation is changing in the field of leisure architecture. After all, we have a rash of companies successfully producing cottages up to 35 sq. m. There are more and more manufacturers who produce more and more diverse modules and prefabricated products. If there are investors ready to create larger forms, the pieces are already in place. Anyway, for several years now we have been seeing a return to the idea of prefabrication as such - "big board" in a more diversified and refined edition, the flagship example of which is the BBGK development on Sprzeczna Street in Warsaw. This way of production and installation is more convenient and simpler. Of course, this raises the question of the carbon footprint generated by transporting prefabricated elements to the construction site. So a lot depends on the distance and organization of the investment.

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"Portable house", Poznań, Szeląg Garden, Ugory/Nadbrzeże Street, proj. Adam Wiercinski.

Interior of a room with a kitchenette

Photo: ONI Studio

Jakub: You are known for working out all the details and most of the furniture yourself in your interior designs . Is it possible to combine such an artisanal approach with prefabrication and modularity?

Adam: I think an architect's authorial idea can and even should be expressed in the proper integration of modular forms into the surroundings. It would be a bad thing if serial and repetitive shapes were put up somewhere or other, without being properly embedded in the context. I also see opportunity in the creative juxtaposition of all available "building blocks." I'm thinking here not only of large-scale prefabricated products or shipping containers, but also of smaller elements that lend themselves to even more flexible shaping. Because a shipping container has its limitations. It can't be cut out of it into corner posts, frames or feet. So it is not suitable for larger, more complex structures.

Jacob: Would you like to create those as well?

Adam: Maybe. Above all, however, I'm thinking of revaluing existing blocks of large slab buildings. Again: nothing revelatory, after all, the Lacaton & Vassal studio got the Pritzker for, among other things, creative alterations of blocks of flats. The Germans and the Dutch have also been somewhat active in this field, and I highly appreciate the modifications that the Slovaks from the GutGut studio recently made. They not only revitalized the block with new balconies, but overbuilt it with a two-story lightweight form with a steel frame. This is what we should also do with Polish large slabs. Combining different types of construction is, by the way, very interesting, as I had the opportunity to test when redesigning the Art Container a few years ago. The wood modules complemented the container forms very interestingly.

Jakub: However, modifications of modernist blocks and modular construction are still a rarity. Meanwhile, Polish developers are pouring concrete the old-fashioned way and building a record number of apartments.

Adam: The construction machine is rushing and sees no interest in switching to new tracks. What is needed, then, is education, promotion, perhaps some kind of financial incentive system, because, after all, reusing containers, or - what I also find interesting - prefabs that have already been used once, is an environmentally friendly measure. I just don't know who would systemically handle this promotion, as well as the creation of infrastructure-equipped sites for settlements or settlements of modular homes. Because, in order to easily move a mobile home, you also need properly prepared locations. For the time being, the most in the field of promoting alternative forms is done by publications, talks, and - precisely - awards. That's probably why I received one of them.

interviewed: Jakub Głaz

Here you can find A&B's earlier conversation: about Adam Wiercinski's more traditional projects and his way of working.

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