When you think of shipping containers, you probably picture huge steel boxes that companies use to haul hazardous materials and other cargo from one place to another. While that was originally their primary purpose, their usefulness has broadened. Today, builders are converting shipping containers into a variety of structures for living and commercial purposes.
The trend, called cargotecture, has grown beyond just upcycling retired shipping containers into cost-efficient and secure buildings. Architects are designing buildings that incorporate brand new shipping containers in ambitious projects including unique container houses, schools, portable hotels, restaurants, bridges, hospitals, movie theatres, food trucks, coffee bars, cafes, student housing, offices, and more. The possibilities are endless as these old containers get a new lease on life.
Shipping containers are flood-proof and fire-proof, making them great building material. They are usually used for just 10 to 15 years but can last much longer, making them a great resource for cargotecture.
Let’s take a look at some creative and functional shipping container structures from around the world.
1. Keetwonen, Amsterdam
Constructed in 2005, Keetwonen in Amsterdam has the biggest complex of buildings in the world built from shipping containers. It is made up of 1,034 containers and was initially meant to provide temporary student accommodation.
2. Redondo Beach House, California
Built from eight shipping containers, Redondo Beach House in California is a two-story, 278 square-meter home. The house overlooks the Pacific Ocean from a one in a million beachfront locations. It has four container bedrooms with attached bathrooms and a pool.
3. Port-A-Bach, New Zealand
Atelierworkshop is a New Zealand company that specializes in providing affordable holiday homes. Their Port-A-Bach shipping container project is designed to be self-contained, has fold-out walls, and can be transported anywhere easily.
4. Cúbica Container House, Costa Rica
This tiny cargotecture vacation home is only 160 square feet, but it sleeps up to four people. Vacationers can enjoy the view from the rooftop deck with built-in benches. The front deck allows outside dining under a protective awning that folds down to cover the sliding glass door for nighttime security.
5. Mill Junction Silos, Johannesburg
Property developer Citiq combined converted shipping containers and grain silos into affordable student accommodations. The 10-story grain silo base, topped with four more stories of shipping containers, provides 375 apartments and has become a colorful addition to the city’s skyline.
6. The Bonsai Skyscraper (Freitag Store), Zurich
The flagship store for Freitag — known for its bags and accessories made from recycled truck tarp and compostable textiles — expresses the company’s reuse philosophy. It consists of 19 rusty used shipping containers that have been reinforced and stacked to make this eye-catching skyscraper. The building uses a mechanical, resource-saving ventilation system and a low-energy air heat pump.
7. Trump Cadde, Istanbul
GAD Architecture created a miniature modern-day Turkish bazaar using modular shipping containers on the roof terrace of Trump Towers, Istanbul. The building houses 25 carefully chosen commercial units and gardens in a delightful combination of open and enclosed spaces.
8. Container City, Cholula, Mexico
Just a couple of hours from Mexico City is Container City. This converted shipping container structure offers gallery spaces, restaurants, bars, stores, and even living and office spaces. Constructed in 2009, the village brought not only sustainability, it also created jobs and community.
9. KontenerART, Poznań, Poland
An initiative of independent artists in Poznań, KontenerART is a small container city for the arts that offers film screenings, concerts, workshops, and art installations. Each year, a new architect redesigns the space, which includes a bar and even an artificial beach for socializing and relaxation. The compound gives local and international artists two free containers for the summer.
10. Snoozebox Portable Hotel, Northamptonshire, England
Centrally located in the Silverstone Circuit, Snoozebox is a pod-delivery hotel system that brings containers to many events based in the UK. It comes well-equipped with air-conditioning and heating, ensuite bathrooms, double and single bunk beds, and more.
The applications of repurposed shipping containers in structures are limitless and span across countless industries. The above buildings are just a few examples of the creative possibilities that cargotecture offers.
About the Author
Amanda Wilson is a freelance writer who has built her career specializing in modern building architecture and construction.