Overview of Modular Design Strategy of the Shipping Container Architecture in Cold Regions

2017 IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science, Volume 63

Authors

Zexin Sun, Hongyuan Mei and Ruixian Ni

School of Architecture, Harbin Institute of Technology, Room 325,No .66Xidazhi St,
Harbin,Heilongjiang,China

736087330@qq.com

1. Introduction
2. The advantages of shipping container architecture in cold regions
2.1. Prefabrication, shorten the construction duration
2.2. Recycling, save the building material
2.3. Standardization, reduce building energy consumption
2.4. Removable, adapt to diverse sites
3. Analysis of the modular design
3.1. Modular design
3.2. Modular design in architecture
4. Modular design strategy of shipping container architecture in cold regions
4.1. Classification of the modular design strategy
4.2. Combinations of the modular design strategy
5. Conclusion
References

Abstract.

In recent years, the shipping container architecture, as an emerging green building
mode, has grown in popularity. In this article, we analyse the advantages of applying shipping
container architecture in cold regions, such as shortening the construction cycle, saving
construction materials, reducing energy consumption and adapting to diverse sites. Then we
analyze the modular design strategy and the modular design strategy in architecture. In the end
we introduce the modular design strategy of shipping container architecture in cold regions
with the technology roadmap, classification and combination.



1. Introduction


In recent years, the shipping container architecture has grown in popularity. The shipping container
architecture refers to a type of architecture transformed from the steel intermodal containers (Figure1).
With the crises of resources and environment, sustainable and green are becoming the consensus of
architecture gradually. As an emerging type of green building, the shipping container architecture has
shown great potential in construction efficiency, economy, mobility and sustainability [1]. As a
transportation product, shipping containers have standard sizes and high structural strength so they are
very suitable for standardized construction. Besides, the shipping containers is aneco-friendly building
material which can be easily recycled and reused and also the shipping containers are with a relatively
low expense and have a wide range of sources, there are more than 1 million TEU (Twenty-Feet
Equivalent Units) of shipping container seliminated every year, provides sufficient materials for the
construction[2]. Architecture in cold regions have the problems of short construction cycle, high
building energy consumption and high construction material consumption, the introduction of the
shipping container architecture provides a new opportunity to solve these problems and develops a
new territory of architecture in cold regions.

2. The advantages of shipping container architecture in cold regions


The cold regions are at high latitudes and have relatively longer winter (Figure2). Due to the limitation
of region and environment, architecture in cold regions faces a great shackle on greenization [3].
Under such circumstances, there are many advantages of applying shipping container architecture in
cold regions as follows.

2.1. Prefabrication, shorten the construction duration

In cold regions, it is very difficult to carry out construction in the long cold winter, which leads to a
poor economic performance due to the short construction cycle and long-duration of the project.
However, the shipping container architecture is more adapted to the industrialization since it is easier
to be prefabricated in the factory with a more stable construction process and a higher degree of
standardization. The construction duration will be shortened by using standardized prefabricated
modules and the construction efficiency will be improved greatly as well. Compare to the traditional
reinforced concrete structure buildings, the construction duration will be shortened to 1/3, and the
useful life will be increased by 40% [4].


Figure 1. Stacked shipping containers form temporary pavilion in Shanxi, China, by People's Architecture Office.



Figure 2. Cold regions in China (the blue part) according to the “Thermal Design Code for Civil Buildings”.

2.2. Recycling, save the building material

The building envelope is thick and heavy in cold regions due to the requirement of insulation
performance, and the components of therein forced concrete structure buildings are in large size, both
of them lead to a low effective area coefficient of the buildings. Besides, the traditional buildings
cannot ensure the maximum performances of the materials and also the construction materials are
difficult to recycle and reuse, it will produce a lot of construction waste during the construction
process, leading to a huge waste. Shipping container architecture applies the standard container, which
is an ideal building material with good structural strength and long durability as the basic module, lead
to a relatively high effective area coefficient of the building. At the same time, shipping container is
easily to recycle. The introduction of shipping container architecture in cold regions will bring more
than90% of reducing, reusing, and recycling the building materials.

2.3. Standardization, reduce building energy consumption

The climate of cold regions can be characterized by low temperature, little sunshine and long winter,
therefore, buildings should take full account of the demand of adaptive with the cold climate. As an
industrial product, the shipping container is easier to standardized prefabricated in factory. The
performance of the building will be improved through a systematic design and construction process
from the inside to outside, through using the integrated heat preservation and heat storage technology
as well as the BIM (Building information modeling) platform; it will effectively improve the thermal
performance and reduce the energy consumption of the building. Compare to the traditional
construction methods, the shipping container architecture can achieve 40% of water saving, 90% of
energy saving, 20% oflandsavingand80%of construction waste reducing [5].

2.4. Removable, adapt to diverse sites

Cold regions are with varied landscapes, such as snow, ice, lakes, forests, grasslands, wetlands,
farmlands and so on; the diverse sites have more requirements for the buildings. Besides, the buildings
are significant seasonal, the frequent demolition and construction of seasonal service buildings will
cause a huge waste of resources. While the shipping container architecture has the characteristic of
moveable and convenient to assemble or disassemble, it cannot only be used to build mobile homes
for various sites, but also can be applied in the seasonal service facilities and shelters, so that it will
greatly expand the scope of buildings in cold regions.

3. Analysis of the modular design


In the perspectives of globalization and industrialization, the concept of modular design was formed
based on the idea of standardization. The modular design aims at improving the degree of versatility,
reducing the variety and numbers of components in order to use less cost to get more series of
productions. The concept of modularity was applied to manufacturing industry first, and then it was
widely applied in architecture gradually.

3.1. Modular design

The modularity is based on the idea of standardization with an advanced form. The so-called
standardization is to develop common and repeated service regulations for specific or potential
problems in order to get best orders. The essence of standardization is achieving unity through
customizing, distributing and implementing the standards. And the modularity is aimed at simplifying
the design process in order to use the manpower and resources effectively, shorten the construction
cycle and improve the quality of products, so that it will reduce the cost and maximize economic
benefits in the end.

Modular design doesn’t have a unified and precise definition (Table1), it usually refers to break up
a large system into several subsystems within a series of relations, and each subsystem can be replaced
or combined with each other. Masahiko Aoki indicated that each module is a half self-discipline
subsystem, the modules are connecting with each other in certain rules in order to interrelate and
constitute a more complex system, the modularity contains the two behaviors of division and
concentration of the modules[6].

Table 1. Narrow sense and broad sense of modular design

ConnotationDenotation
Narrow sense1. The system has a clear multistage
modular hierarchies
2. Modules have compatibility on
function and size
Modular production
composed by different
modules
Broad sense1. Project is with a clear hierarchy
2. Modules are with generality and
representativeness
Everything composed by
typical generic units


The modular design strategy is of great significance for contemporary manufacturing. The practice
of modular design started long before, in 1964, IBM designers creatively developed the IBM360
system through using modular design strategies, achieved the important landmark in the history of
computer innovation. Then, the modular design strategy was widely applied in the industry of
automotive, furniture, integrated circuits, manufacturing and so on. In recent years, the modular design
strategy has been adapted to the new industrial revolution with the emerging computer technology,
become the important force to promote the development of manufacturing industry, which is on a
transition from the standardized production to mass customization. Professor Baldwin and Clark from
the Harvard Business School indicated that the contemporary is the modular time, pointed out that the
modularity has significant impacts on the upgrade of the industrial structure and the manufacturing
industry has entered a time of modularization design, modularization production and modularization
consumption[7]. Masahiko Aoki even believed the essence of the new industrial is modularity

The service object of the modular design is system, the unit is the module. Modular design is based
on the system and it realizes combination and utilization of the different modules with the greatest
extent. Modular design strategy is not only a kind of design and technical method, but also a
complicated system engineering and a systematic process.

3.2. Modular design in architecture

The purpose of applying the modular design strategy in architecture is to improve the efficiency of
construction. In the development of architecture, the modular design concept was always implied in
the architectural design process. As early as back to the days of the Song Dynasty in China (960–
1279), the book “Yingzao Fashi”(Treatise on Architectural Methods or State Building Standards)
recorded the utilization of the modular strategy in the traditional Chinese architecture. The modular
system was adopted to construct different components such as Dougong, which is a unique structural
element of interlocking wooden brackets. This system stipulated different modules such as “cai”, “fen”
and “qi”. The height of “cai” is 15 “fen” and the thickness of “cai” is 10 “fen”, the distance between
the layers of “Dougong” is 6 “fen”, which is the “qi”. Almost all of the wood components used “cai”,
“fen” and “qi” to determine the size, making a unified standard between the components [8] (Figure 3).


Figure 3. “Yingzao Fashi” by Li Jie indicated the modular wood components of dougong.


After the Renaissance, the architectural design and construction were gradually separated, the
design process is operating in the architectural work space based on the orthogonal projection system
and applies the architectural drawings to represent. The concept of modularity is throughout the
process of design, such as using the modulus and axis, dividing the building into components and so
on. In modern architecture, the modularity idea was widely applied by the pioneer modernism
architects, for example Le Corbusier adopted the standardized and modular strategy not only as his
starting point of architectural aesthetics, but also an important designing tool in his projects. His
design process was based on division and combination of the building components such as foundations,
walls, columns, floors, stairs, roofs and so on, reached a high degree of unity of the logic and
aesthetics[9].

In the 1960s, the concept of modular design gradually raised with the high-tech architecture
movement and utopian ideas. In the 1967 International and Universal Exposition, Safdie Moshe
finished his first project Habitat 67 with the idea of providing affordable residences for the lowincome
groups, 158 houses were constructed from354 modular units. Each box type residential unit
was prefabricated and then scattered piled up together (Figure4). At the same time in 1960s, Japanese
architects brought the Metabolism which also applied the modular design strategy; the difference from
Safdie is that the modules were plugged into the structural and service core. One of the most famous
Metabolism projects is the Nakagin Capsule Tower by Kurokawa, he set up are cycling strategy that
the modules could be easily extracted and updated if needed (Figure 5).


Figure 4. Habitat 67.



Figure 5. Nakagin Capsule Tower.


In recent years, the contemporary architects combine the modular design strategy with the green
and ecological concept, create the “modular homes” which are sectional prefabricated buildings. The
module sections are prefabricated at an offsite facility and then delivered to the site for construction.
The “modular homes” realize more variability of configurations and styles in the building lay out
through the systematic combination of the function modules and building envelop modules [10]. Now,
the concept of modular design grows more and more popular with the rise of mass customization and
the rapid development of computer technology [11].

4. Modular design strategy of shipping container architecture in cold regions


In the design and construction process of the shipping container architecture in cold regions, the
modular design strategy refers to using the shipping container as a standard unit to carry out the
process, the shipping container is not only the unit module of construction and the basis of the design
operation, but also the structural components due to its high structural strength and durability. The
design work is not limited on paper but rather applying the BIM technology and operating the design
in three dimensional, the modular design strategy of shipping container architecture in cold regions
has significance as follows:

1. The mechanism of modular design simplifies the design process; architects are able to solve
specific problems with modular logic by applying the serialized modules.

2. The modularity is an advanced form of standardization with higher performance; the shipping
container architecture in cold regions will be more integrated and diversified by applying
multi-functional composite modules.

3. The application of modular design strategy in shipping container architecture is not only during
the design process, but also throughout the whole process of construction and operation, such
as modular management and modular construction, and thus it will significantly improve the
construction efficient in cold regions.

4.1. Classification of the modular design strategy

The utilization of the modular design strategy is the key to promote the development of architecture
industrialization that can be characterized as standard design, industrialized production, prefabrication
and informatization management, and thus will have revolutionary impacts on architecture in cold
regions. The modular design strategy of shipping container architecture in cold regions is based on the
existing adaptive design techniques and different demands of cold regions aimed at energy saving,
sustainable and movable. And the modular design strategy is an integrated system of operation method
and technology strategy with the subsystems of building envelope modules, equipment modules,
transportation and construction modules. In this system, the subsystem of building envelope modules
include the roofs, panels, windows, floors and so on; focus on adaptive design, insulation technology,
air tightness of the joints and so on. The equipment modules include solar dynamic power system,
thermal storage battery system, water treatment system, auto leveling system and so on. The
transportation and construction modules include the prefabrication and transportation system,
construction management system and so on; form the self-sufficient passive high-performance
shipping container architecture design and construction strategy as well as the municipal pipe network
interface modules of the shipping container architecture. The system is targeting at greenization and
based on the strategy of serialization, recycle and integration. All in all the modular design strategy is
not only a design method of the shipping container architecture in cold regions, but also the
technology road map that indicates the implementation of the operations (Figure 6).


Figure 6. The modular design system technology road-map of shipping container architecture in cold
regions.

4.2. Combinations of the modular design strategy

The combinations of the modular design strategy of the shipping container architecture in cold regions
can be characterized with the equation as:

Project = Universal Modules + Special Modules + Functional Modules

In this equation, the universal modules refer to the invariant parts which are the structural
components and the standard shipping container units; the special modules refer to the variable parts
which are the building envelope modules and equipment modules mentioned before; the functional
modules are the adaptive parts which are the construction and transportation modules. The
combinations of the modular design strategy are not only the different combination of modules, but
also the adaptive operation methods. On the other hand, the combinations are also indicating the
form design strategy of the shipping container architecture; usually refer to the combinations of the
shipping container units. The shipping container unit is a box-type element with characters of simple
and high strength performance, it is easier for the architects to carry out the adaptive design with
simple logics through different combinations of the units, such as side-by-side style, converging style,
unit style, stacked style, mixed style and so on.
As mentioned before, the modularity is a systemic operation method of the shipping container
architecture in cold regions. The modularity put forward an application strategy of standardized
construction which is adapted to the mass customization of the contemporary architecture
industrialization, so that it will achieve intelligent construction and lean production of the shipping
container architecture. By applying different combinations of the modules and shipping container units
according to the functions and sites, so that it will realize the variability of configurations and styles of
the buildings.

5. Conclusion


As an emerging green building mode, the shipping container architecture will provide an effective way
of construction in cold regions. The application of the modular design strategy of the shipping
container architecture is not only the way to optimize the design process, but also an implementation
strategy of the whole industry. Develop the modular design system with the subsystems of building
envelope modules, equipment modules, transportation and construction modules based on the strategy
of serialization, recycle and integration, thus establishing an innovative operation method of the
shipping container architecture in cold regions.

References


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[5] Martinez-Garcia, Mary. "Shipping Container Home." (2014).
[6] Aoki, Masahiko. "Institutional complementarities between organizational architecture and
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[7] Baldwin, Carliss Y., and Kim B. Clark. "Managing in an age of modularity." Managing in the
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Links

http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1755-1315/63/1/012035
http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1755-1315/63/1/012035/pdf