CNN caught up with Adam Kalkin to talk containers, art and conceptual thinking...
Kalkin got the inspiration for his container houses when he saw shipping containers piled up in shipyards
CNN: Can you talk us through the idea behind the Quik House?
Adam Kalkin: I designed the Quik House to conform to an American demographic of a regular family with parents and two children -- what we call a nuclear family.
The Quik House has one large bedroom for the parents and two smaller for the children. The children share a bathroom. There are three bedrooms and two and a half baths, which is the typical American house. The average American house twenty-five years ago was 1500 square feet; the Quik House is about 2000 square feet.
Downstairs, there is a large central space which has a kitchen, a living room and a little dining area. A kind of public space. Upstairs are the private spaces, the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the study, a little lounge area. So it's the essence of what we need to live and it's a very economical use of space and materials.
CNN: What is the Quik House made from?
Kalkin: The materials are recycled shipping containers, which have already been created and are repurposed to make housing. This housing can be used anywhere in the world because shipping containers can be found anywhere, they are all generic and they all conform to certain very specific specifications in terms of size, weight and structural integrity.
CNN: So what you are doing is recycling?
Kalkin: Yeah, you could say that this is a form of up-cycling or recycling -- taking disused materials and using them for a higher purpose. Although my intent wasn't to do anything that is necessarily environmental or green, the net result is that it doesn't create any new material in the world. Also, since these things are all over the place, you don't need to consume fuels to transport them very far.
CNN: What makes container housing such a great concept?
Kalkin: One of the cores of any good business idea is that it can be scaled up. That's already built into the idea of containerization. There is a natural scaleability that transfers well to architectural solutions.
CNN: Can you explain why these disused shipping containers exist?
Kalkin: If international trade is high, the depot tends to be depleted, but when international trade is slow or imbalanced, in other words a lot of things being shipped to one area but not being shipped back, then you tend to get build-ups and surpluses of containers in certain places.
CNN: How do you feel when you walk into a container depot?
Kalkin: Container depots are very cinematic and theatrical because any place that's created for a purpose other than habitation is not recognizable or comfortable to the human eye. You always get the sense of 'the other' when you're in a place like that. They dwarf people in terms of scale -- you get the sense that they were created for something else. You feel threatened while you're in these areas. There's something touching about that.
CNN: Most people would associate shipping containers with junk but you've created something aesthetic and beautiful from them. What is your view on that contradiction?
Kalkin: I think all art-making has to do with transformation. That's the central idea. I have a personal fascination with junk and love the idea of re-using industrial detritus that was created in other places for other reasons.
One of the things I like to do with Quik House is to take something very rough, very industrial, which was made to cross oceans and to carry very heavy cargo, and turn it into something that is very domestic: to tame it. In our homes we want something that reflects both of those things.
These things also have tremendous political considerations in the sense that people stow away in one country to another and they hide away inside of them. So there is already this idea of habitation -- in a way, I'm just teasing out some of the things that already exist.
CNN: What do you think stops more people from having these sorts of ideas?
Kalkin: We live in a culture of specialization. The more specialized we are, the more economic value we have. Someone who can write a very specific kind of software code has a very specific value attached to their output. The fewer people who can do what you do, the greater the rarity your abilities have, and therefore greater value. That's the way our whole society is geared, we're all geared to be worker bees or worker ants, to be little cogs in a large economic system.
But nobody is paid to have a broad, conceptual view. People aren't taught to think outside the box. We're bred to be conventional, because you want the huge mass to pull all the oars at the same. No one is really paid to innovate: it doesn't make sense because there is such a huge failure rate in innovation. But in those rare cases of success we're actually crucial to the progress of society as a whole.
If you look at the history of interesting people, a lot of them have been put together a little bit differently psychologically, and maybe they're not so totally reliant on the social notion of being a team player: people like Wittgenstein, people that are a little gnarly, a little contentious, a little cranky. They get their kicks out of something different and that enables you to think a little bit differently.
CNN: What are you working on at the moment?
Kalkin: I'm doing a church, which I've never done before, for a big Unitarian-Universalist congregation in Vermont. I'm pretty excited about that because I've always been interested in ideas of the sacred: that's certainly been a theme in architectural history. It's a spin off from some of the other standard container configurations that I've already developed.
I'm doing a couple of projects in New York City enlarging and gutting a brownstone but using totally prefabricated strategies. Traditionally, building in the city is incredibly expensive because of bureaucracy and local markets, so if I can do a lot of this off-site there are large savings to be made.
I'm also developing a retail prototype, making some stores that are going to be franchised and stamped out across the country, and then I'm doing some houses, art pieces and sculptures. E-mail to a friend
|Most Viewed||Most Emailed|