Posted on April 12, 2022 by Hunter Hulbert - Community
Adam Kalkin’s projects seamlessly navigate the artistic palette and blend the worlds of art and sculpture with engineering and architecture. Photo by Peter Aaron
Adam Kalkin’s work cannot be defined by conventional terms. In fact, his unique approach to both art and architecture defies definition. He simply cannot be boxed in to just one category — his projects seamlessly navigate the artistic palette and blend the worlds of art and sculpture with engineering and architecture. The celebrated New Jersey native is world-renowned for his creative innovations. Specifically, his repurposing of cargo shipping containers into homes, pop-up businesses and art installations. He has emerged as a leader in his field and has even been dubbed “the father of modern container architecture, or ‘ cargotecture, ’ ” by CNN.
Over the past two decades, Kalkin’s works have drawn the highest media praise imaginable. And the accolades don’t stop there — the Vassar graduate catapulted to the upper echelons of the art world when the Museum of Modern Art featured his Quik House in a 2008 exhibit on prefabricated housing. The recognition from such a wide swath of creative circles only serves to prove that Kalkin can’t be painted into a corner or, as Kalkin himself puts it, he “won’t be limited by the categories out there.”
As a result, Kalkin has his hand in many a pot. “I really do everything,” he said. He not only identifies as an architect and engineer, but also as a visual and performance artist. “I even manage a hedge fund,” he laughed. “And I take it all equally seriously. You have to constantly move laterally or you’re not growing.”
Adam Kalkin has been dubbed ‘the father of modern container architecture’ by CNN and is world-renowned for his creative innovations. Photo by Peter Aaron
Growth certainly has been the driving force, and silent partner, throughout Kalkin’s career. While starting off as an artist, Kalkin was intrigued with the discarded shipping container graveyards that became part of the northern New Jersey landscape. “I just liked them and started using them in art and sculpture,” he explained. From there, the container curiosity naturally migrated into his architectural endeavors. In this medium, Kalkin strives to repurpose these relics by adapting them into sustainable living spaces. As his firm, Industrial Zombie, explains on its website, inzombie.com , “we use discarded industrial materials, reimagining them for a higher purpose, thereby giving them new life.”
And, by 2000, that is exactly what Kalkin was doing when he broke ground on the first home made with corrugated steel shipping containers. Each home typically takes six months to create, with half of the work often done at a manufacturing plant in New Jersey, where Kalkin is usually based. And while each home “starts with an idea that is very standardized,” he said that each project is then customized and tailored for his clients. Hence, “no two homes are really alike.” Especially in “the bigger, more unique homes that have all sorts of features.”
The Califon House consists of six shipping containers, stacked and welded together to create two wings that span 2,000 square feet each and were originally connected by a steel breezeway. Photo by Peter Aaron
One such home is the Califon House, located on 3.34 acres in Califon. Completed in 2009, this architectural marvel consists of 12 shipping containers, stacked and welded together to create two wings that span 2,000 square feet each and were originally connected by a steel breezeway. The four-room, four-bath home, which Kalkin lived in briefly, was recently put back on the market and listed at $875,000.
Other projects have followed, including the Push Button House, which initially turned heads at Miami Art Basel in 2005. Using “hydraulic controlled units with all sorts of hinging,” these structures unfold into fully furnished rooms, Whole Foods kitchens or Illy coffee cafés in 60 seconds.
Through it all, Kalkin still has a particular fondness for one of his first projects, sans shipping containers. “I still like Bunny Lane,” he said of the small, 19th-century farmhouse in Bernardsville, which he encased within a different kind of prefab material — an aircraft hangar measuring 27-feet high and 33-feet wide — thus offering more exterior space. Kalkin accomplished this by creating additional rooms within the hangar, which look upon the original home through glass walls. This one hits close for Kalkin, as it is, in fact, his home.
Bunny Lane is a 19th-century farmhouse in Bernardsville, which he encased within a different kind of prefab material — an aircraft hangar measuring 27-feet high and 33-feet wide. Photo by Peter Aaron
What’s next for Kalkin and his IZ team is anyone’s guess. “I just made a piece in Kuwait, on the Persian Gulf. The entire outside is fabric,” he said of this newer approach to outdoor spaces. And that’s par for the course for Kalkin, the ever-evolving explorer and creator, who is adding more, and different, “organic materials” into his repertoire.
“The definition of architecture has expanded,” he said. And Kalkin, never one for stagnancy or limitations, continues to keep pace and expand as well.
Vanessa Rothschild is a freelance writer and editor. She has written about entertainment, food and culture for Entertainment Weekly, TVGuide.com and NJ.com.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Jersey’s Best. Subscribe here for in-depth access to everything that makes the Garden State great.
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