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Biography: Adam Kalkin

By Linnie Rawlinson for CNN
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From Vogue-endorsed weekend bolt holes to play areas for underprivileged children in Russia, artist and architect Adam Kalkin's repurposed shipping container homes are encouraging people to think -- quite literally -- out of the box.

An English graduate of Vassar College, Kalkin then studied architecture in London. His interdisciplinary approach sees him draw influences from the worlds of music, literature and the visual arts. He thrives on the challenge of repurposing traditional objects, and says, "I have a personal fascination with junk. I love the idea of re-using industrial detritus that was created in other places for other reasons."

Inspiration for the Quik House

Kalkin was inspired when he saw stacks of disused shipping containers piled up in the docks that lined his route from his hometown in New Jersey to New York City. He started to think how the containers might be reused as living spaces. The Quik House was the result.

He explains, "The idea is to re-use the shipping container, redirect it and make something totally surprising out of it. One of the things I like to do with Quik House is to take something very rough, very industrial, in a way violent and shocking, and turn it into something that is very domestic: to tame it."

The basic Quik House is formed of five containers, with an area of 2,000 square feet. Boasting three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms and an open plan living area, the house is light, streamlined and fully customizable. The standard containers come in orange or "rust bloom" color and are also available spray-painted with graffiti.

The total cost of the house -- around $150,000 to $175,000, or under $90 per square foot -- compares favorably with the cost of conventional new-build housing, at around $200 per square foot.

Where architecture meets performance art

Appropriately for someone whose lateral thinking has brought them success, Kalkin does not wish to be pigeonholed as an architect -- he considers himself an artist, too, and creates art pieces, sculptures and performance art.

His Push-Button House, packed into a single shipping container, unfolds in seconds at the touch of a button to reveal a sleek, modern popup home. While not intended for habitation, the Push-Button House underlines Kalkin's belief that container housing isn't just cheap, practical and fast to assemble, but can be stylish, too.

For Kalkin, much of the appeal of container housing is its flexibility. His homes have been hailed by Vogue magazine as "the chicest weekend retreat one can buy for $99,000" but they have also formed the foundation of a disaster-relief housing prototype.

A solution for disaster relief?

Kalkin now has a team of architects, utility experts and builders ready to respond to disasters requiring mass housing quickly and cheaply.

He says, "There is a natural scaleability in this idea of containerization that transfers well to architectural solutions to population problems and natural disaster problems."

He has also worked with supermodel Natalia Vodianova to turn containers into indoor play areas for underprivileged Russian children. He says, "We've designed a beautiful 5,000 square foot indoor supervised playground and we're ready to go. We're just trying to work out some bureaucratic details over there."

Kalkin is currently working on a church, an urban brownstone project in New York City and a retail prototype. He says of his work,

"You've got to follow your intuition. It's not a question of seeing with your eyes; it's a question of seeing and feeling with our minds."


Adam Kalkin

Kalkin sees containers as an affordable, scaleable solution for everything from disaster relief housing to luxury homes

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