News ID: 258371
Published: 1149 GMT September 06, 2019

Barcelona's shipping container homes

Barcelona's shipping container homes
PAU BARRENA/AFP

Barcelona has begun installing its first shipping container homes just a stone’s throw from La Rambla, the famous thoroughfare in the city center, in a bid to provide emergency housing for people who have been evicted or otherwise driven out of the neighborhood by gentrification.

Work commenced last week on the 12 small apartments, which are being installed on Carrer Nou de Sant Francesc, a narrow street in the densely populated Ciutat Vella (‘old city’) district, according to the Guardian.

The container scheme, which has raised eyebrows in a city known for its elegant urban landscape, was initially rejected by the council for fear tenants would feel stigmatized. With over 1,000 people on the emergency housing list, however, it was soon revived.

The organization behind the project is Aprop — an acronym meaning ‘local provisional housing’ that also means ‘close by’ in Catalan — which is working in conjunction with three architectural practices.

David Juárez, an architect at Straddle3, one of the practices involved, said people have an image of a ‘naff’ project but that there is nothing shabby about the one- and two-bedroom flats being constructed.

They will be built to the same standards as conventional housing, with good thermal and sound insulation and under-floor heating, he said, and when the work is complete they will not even be recognizable as containers.

“These container homes are built to a higher standard than much of what is on the rental market in Barcelona,” said the housing activist Jaime Palomera, spokesman for the city’s Tenants’ Union. “This idea that the poor are being forced to live in sardine tins is nonsense.”

But concerns have been raised about this type of housing.

“The biggest problem with containers is insulation, both thermal and noise,” said Co Govers of the Zest Architecture practice in Barcelona, which specializes in low-energy construction.

 “That was the big issue when they built student residences in the Netherlands with containers, that they were cold and noisy. You have to add massive amounts of insulation, which is expensive.” Some forms of internal insulation also further reduce the cramped living space.

There has been criticism of a similar scheme in Ealing, west London. The children’s commissioner for England recently criticized container flats as unsuitable and unsafe, and residents have said they are cramped, stiflingly hot in summer, and too cold in winter.

The total cost of the scheme in Barcelona is €940,000 (£840,000). “We can deliver an apartment in a year while a traditional building takes six to eight years to reach completion,” said Tonet Font of the city’s social innovation department. Work is expected to be completed by the end of October.

However, Govers argues that, despite the speed of construction, the flats do not in fact offer value for money: “If they’re producing 12 flats of an average of 45 sq meters for €940,000, that’s not so cheap,” she said. “With that money you could build something new, and something that would be pretty OK, at that. This sounds expensive for temporary housing.”

Barcelona already has an abysmally low level of public housing — 1.5 percent of the total stock, compared with 28 percent in Berlin.

Local authorities depend on central government funding to finance building projects but have been starved of cash in recent years. Currently only 0.05 percent of GDP is set aside for public housing.

Juárez says Aprop’s prime motivation is to resist the tide of gentrification that is driving all but the most well-to-do out of the city centre as speculation and tourist apartments force up rents and house prices.

   
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