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The Rise and Rise of Shipping Containers as Building Materials

These buildings built from containers range from the beautiful to the frankly absurd.

The Rise and Rise of Shipping Containers as Building Materials
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The use of shipping containers as basic building blocks for commercial and domestic properties is a very interesting, if not surprising trend. In fact, according to some estimates, the shipping container home market could be worth more than $73 billion by 2025!

While some shipping container-based buildings can be eyesores, when done right, they can lead to some very striking and interesting architecture — as you are about to find out. 

How much do storage container homes cost?

If you are interested in owning your own shipping container real estate, prices will vary considerably — depending on the quality of construction you are looking for. Basic "no-frills" options tend to range from between $10,000 and $35,000 (without the land).

For more luxurious shipping container-based abodes, multiple-shipping container constructions can cost anywhere between $100,000 and $175,000 — according to some sources. Of course, for larger sprawling palatial affairs, the sky could be the limit. 

shipping containers as buildings
Source: Todd Lappin/Flickr

This is especially true if the building is built on some prime real-estate locations around the world — especially if sited near the beach. 

Are container homes safe?

Since shipping container buildings are made from shipping containers, often recycled ones, you might be wondering if they are actually safe? The basic building blocks of such buildings (the shipping containers themselves) are designed to be very robust, airtight, and effectively impenetrable containers for transporting freight around the world. 

For this reason, they are some of the strongest building components around. However, once the basic shipping container is modified to include windows, doors, etc, the security of such structures is entirely dependent on the quality and securability of these weaker elements of their structure. Cutting holes in the walls can also impact their structural strength  especially for multi-story constructions. For this reason, structural steel reinforcements are often needed. 

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With regards to structural integrity, this can vary based on the age of the container and whether it is used or new. Even older ones will be very strong in some places, like their corners, but their relatively thinner walls, floors, and ceilings can show signs of fatigue. 

If recycling them to build a home, you will need to add insulation, and may find that some form of traditional roofing is also needed. Used containers may also need to be decontaminated before use (and habituation), especially if they were used for the transport of hazardous materials. 

Are container homes an environmentally friendly alternative to normal homes?

In short, yes and no. While the use, well reuse, of things like shipping containers will save on raw material and energy costs in producing new building materials, they are not always necessarily "environmentally friendly".

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On the plus side, shipping containers benefit from a mature global logistics infrastructure that makes them very easy to move around — even globally. They are also relatively easy to customize and modify, meaning prefab shipping container structures can be erected in double-quick time. 

For uses like emergency housing following disasters, they are, more-or-less, second-to-none in their utility

shipping container buildings example
Source: Christopher Sessums/Flickr

However, using old shipping containers is not always the most "green" way to build

The main reason is that the methods used to recycle them into housing can vary widely. Buildings made from what are called "one-use" containers are the most common, as the containers tend to have little-to-no damage, with few dents, rust, or other structural problems. This makes them ideal as building materials. 

Others may use what are termed "out-of-service" containers. These are veteran containers that may have had a long service life. Exposure to saltwater and years of wear and tear can leave them in particularly bad shape. 

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While these can be used as building materials (with some repairs), it can also be argued that properly recycling the steel for new uses could be a better option. This is for a variety of reasons, but the main one is that they tend to contain more steel than most houses need. 

If the steel were to be melted down and reformed into steel studs, for example, one old container could be used to help build 14 more traditional houses, instead of one (or just a part of one) shipping container home. 

What are some of the most interesting shipping container buildings in the world?

Fancy seeing some interesting, and in some cases quite beautiful, buildings built with containers? The following range from small houses to large student blocks and can be found all over the globe. 

This list is in no particular order and is far from exhaustive.

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1. "Keetwonen", Amsterdam is one of the world's largest shipping container constructions

The Rise and Rise of Shipping Containers as Building Materials

"Keetwonen" is made up of over 1,000 containers. Source: Tempo Housing

First built in 2005, "Keetwonen" is one of the largest complexes of buildings built from shipping containers in the world. It is made up of 1,034 containers and was meant to provide temporary student accommodation. 

Originally it was only meant to stay at its present location for 5 years, but the decision to remove it has since been postponed indefinitely. 

2." Boucher Grygier House" in California is made from three insulated shipping containers

The Rise and Rise of Shipping Containers as Building Materials
Source: Houzz

"Boucher Grygier House" in California is a three-bedroom, 2,700 sq ft (251 sq mt) homemade from three recycled refrigerated shipping containers. Two are used for the kitchen and master bedroom, with the other cut in half and stacked to provide two additional bedrooms.

3. "Freitag Flagship Store", Zurich is one of the world's tallest shipping container structures

The Rise and Rise of Shipping Containers as Building Materials
Source: Freitag

"Freitag Flagship Store" in Zurich is the world's tallest building constructed out of shipping containers, at 85 ft (26 meters) high. It was built by The Freitag Messenger Bag Company 17 used shipping containers. 

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The first four floors are used for store display, with the others used for storage and for access for visitors to reach the viewing platform at the top. 

4. "2+ Weekend House", Slovenia, was built to order

The Rise and Rise of Shipping Containers as Building Materials
Source: Jure Kotnik

Slovenian architectural firm Arhitektura Jure Kotnik has a penchant for designing buildings that use shipping containers. A prime example is their "2+ Weekend House" design that was specifically designed to use shipping containers to provide housing. Each unit is pre-fabricated, so doesn't use recycled containers, and comes fully wired and plumbed. 

Installation is, therefore, very quick indeed and because of its design, it also has a small environmental footprint.

5. "Redondo Beach House", California has a great location

The Rise and Rise of Shipping Containers as Building Materials
Source: Eco Container Home

Built from eight shipping containers, the "Redondo Beach House" is a two-story home in California. The house overlooks the Pacific Ocean from a $1 million beachfront location. It has four bedrooms, four bathrooms, and a pool that is also made from a shipping container.

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6. "Port-A-Bach", New Zealand is a self-contained home

The Rise and Rise of Shipping Containers as Building Materials
Source: Atelierworkshop

Bonnifait + Giesen Atelierworkshop is a New Zealand architecture firm that specializes in providing affordable holiday homes. Their "Port-A-Bach" shipping container product is designed to be self-contained, has fold-out walls, and is easily transportable. They are designed to be used without the need for electricity and plumbing hookups at the destination. 

7. "Manifesto House", Chile is mainly made from recycled materials

shipping container homes manifesto house
Source: Jamesandmau/Wikimedia Commons

Built from 85 percent recycled materials, "Manifesto House" in Chile, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was not made from shipping containers. The 524 sq ft (160 sq m) home is actually made of three shipping containers and wood pallets, with cellulose from unread newspapers used for insulation.

It cost around $120,000 to build and was finished in less than 90 days. 

8. "Caterpillar House", Chile is aptly named

shipping container house caterpillar
Source: Sebastián Irarrázaval 

Architect Sebastián Irarrázaval decided to use eleven shipping containers to build a 1,148 sq ft (250 sq m) home in Santiago, Chile. Dubbed the "Caterpillar House", it is named after the container "legs" that stick out from the side.

This particular shipping container building is situated in the Andes Mountains. Some of the containers are resting on the slope and blend into the mountain, and act as means of access to the building.

9. "Container City", London is one of the best-known shipping-container constructions

container buildings container city
Source: Trinity Buoy Wharf

Built by Trinity Bouy Wharf on the River Thames, "Container City" is one of the world's most famous constructions built using containers. It is also, in our opinion, a pretty attractive building, or buildings. The "Container City" apartments are very popular with artists, who can rent one as a studio space starting at around £250 ($330) a month

Units in a prime location can go for as much as £1,500 ($1990) a month, however. 

10. "Cubica Container House", Costa Rica is very nice looking

The Rise and Rise of Shipping Containers as Building Materials
Source: Little Things

The phrase, "size doesn't matter" could not be more fitting than for this shipping container house. It is quite possibly one of the most beautiful interior designs we have ever seen. Seeing the images for this container house beggars' belief that it is actually constructed from a shipping container.

11. "Mill Junction Silos", Johannesburg was built to house students

The Rise and Rise of Shipping Containers as Building Materials
Source: Green Ecoservices

Property developers Citiq converted unused grain silos in Johannesburg to provide affordable student accommodation. Not only that, but they plonked some shipping containers on the top and sides to provide additional accommodation spaces.

The entire structure provides 375 individual apartments over 11 stories and has become a colorful and interesting addition to the city's skyline.

12. "Audi Scoreboard", Brooklyn is pretty cool

The Rise and Rise of Shipping Containers as Building Materials
Source: Audi

Audi decided to build a scoreboard for the 2014 football world cup. And they decided to build it out of 28 A8 Audis and 45 shipping containers. The completed scoreboard provides a 40 ft (12-meter) high digital display that is made entirely from the LED headlights on the cars. 

The display was visible from miles around and provided match results throughout the sporting event.

13. The "Hive-Inn" in Frankfurt, Germany is something a little different

The Rise and Rise of Shipping Containers as Building Materials
Source: Ova Studio

The "Hive-Inn" is an interesting conceptual hotel design from Hong Kong-based company OVA Studio. The structure would allow containers to be docked and undocked at will.

The idea is to provide maximum flexibility and mobility, with possible applications for emergency housing or medical care units. 

14. "Trump Tower" in Istanbul has an interesting use of shipping containers

The Rise and Rise of Shipping Containers as Building Materials
Source: GAD Architecture

GAD Architecture created a "miniature master plan" using modular shipping containers and terraces on top of the Trump Tower in Istanbul. The structure is organized over two levels, with a series of paths of different sizes cut through the structure. 

The building houses twenty-five carefully chosen commercial units and gardens, supposedly representative of a modern-day Turkish bazaar.

15. "Old Lady House", New Jersey

The Rise and Rise of Shipping Containers as Building Materials
Source: ecocontainerhome

The "Old Lady House," designed by Adam Kalkin, is far from being a quaint little cottage for granny. It is in actuality a masterpiece in modern design. Built from nine shipping containers, this house is truly awe-inspiring. The entire structure has a suitably industrial-style design, including concrete floors, sliding doors, and a plethora of steel.

16. Dallas will soon be getting some shipping container affordable housing

shipping container homes dallas
Source: Merriman Anderson Architects 

It was recently announced that Dallas may soon be receiving a series of affordable housing built from shipping containers. The project, called Lomax Container Housing Project, has been designed by Merriman Anderson Architects, who teamed up with a local Dallas-based company called CitySquare Housing. 

When complete, the project will contain nineteen, one-bedroom housing units, all made from reclaimed shipping containers 

18. The Port of Ashdod Port Authority office building is quite interesting

shipping container buildings israel
Source: Inhabitat

This ultra-modern office building is located at the Port of Ashdod, in Israel (25 miles/40 km south of Tel Aviv). Made from recycled shipping containers, this building is used to provide offices and technical facilities for the port's administrative body. 

It was built using seven containers and is actually quite pleasing to the eye. 

19. Utah will soon be getting its first shipping container apartment complex

utah box 500 shipping containers
Source: ecoboxfab

Another interesting shipping container building project is a new apartment complex in Utah. Situated in Salt Lake City, this six-story complex is being made completely out of shipping containers. 

Called "Box 500 Apartments", designs started back in 2017 and it is nearing completion at the time of writing (June 2021). The project, according to its architects, was inspired by similar projects in Amsterdam and has been built to provide affordable housing for the area. 

20. Miami could soon receive a shipping container micro-brewery

shipping container buildings micro-brewery
Source: brzoninglaw

Miami may soon receive a new shipping container built micro-brewery. Proposed by D. Manatee Holdings LLC, the City of Miami’s virtual Planning, Zoning, and Appeals Board recently reviewed plans for an 11,000 sqft (3,352 sq m) brew hub with an outdoor beer garden on top of an annex to the historical DuPont building. 

21. This luxurious hotel is made entirely from shipping containers

shipping container buildings geneseo inn
Source: EcoTech Design

A new luxury hotel has recently opened in Paso Robles, California. This might not sound like ground-breaking news, excuse the pun, except that it is made entirely from shipping containers. 

Called "Geneseo Inn", the hotel was designed by the architecture firm EcoTech Design. Internally, the containers have been fitted out with locally sourced materials that have also been either recycled or have a zero-to-low impact on the environment (so say the creators). 

And that, shipping-container fans, is your lot for today. As you can imagine this is but a sample of similar constructions out there.

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