Shipping container architecture is a form of architecture utilizing steel shipping containers as structural element, because of their inherent strength, wide availability and relatively low cost.
Strength and durability
- Shipping containers are in many ways an ideal building material. They are designed to carry heavy loads and support heavy loads when they are stacked in high columns. They are also designed to resist harsh environments - they are transported globally on ocean going vessels or can be covered in road salt when transported on roads. Modular
- All shipping containers are made to the same standard measurements and as such they provide modular elements that can be combined into larger structures. This simplifies design, planning and transport. As they are already designed to interlock for ease of mobility during transportation, structural construction is completed by simply emplacing them. Due to the containers' modular design additional construction is as easy as stacking more containers. They can be stacked up to 12 high when empty.Transport
- Pre-fabricated modules can also be easily transported by ship, truck or rail, because they already conform to standard shipping sizes.Availability
- Used shipping containers are available across the globe. In cases where a company or country receives more containers than it can use to ship in the return directions these containers have no real use, since it is not cost effective to return empty containers to their origin. Cost
- Many used containers are available at a cost that is relatively low compared to a finished structure built by other labour-intensive means such as bricks and mortar — which also require larger more expensive foundations. Construction involves very little labour and a used shipping containers requiring only simple modification can be purchased from major transportation companies for as little as $1,200 USD each. Even when purchased brand new they seldom cost more than $6000 USD.
- Steel conducts heat very well; containers used for human occupancy in an environment with extreme temperature variations will normally have to be better insulated than most brick, block or wood structures. By spraying two coats of a Ceramic powder additive in spray paint an insulation value of R-28 thermal efficiency can be achieved, thus no traditional insulation is required for heat or cold. Labour
- The welding and cutting of steel is considered to be specialized labour and can increase construction costs, yet overall the costs are still lower than conventional construction.Construction site
- The containers will, in most cases, be delivered by truck and then must be emplaced by a crane or forklift. Traditional brick, block and lumber construction will also be delivered by truck. However, these materials often require a forklift to remove the pallets of materials, and might need a crane to lift them to upper stories.Building permits
- The use of steel for construction, while prevalent in industrial construction, is currently not yet widely used for residential structures. Obtaining building permits may be troublesome in some regions due to municipalities not having seen this application before.
Many structures based on shipping containers have already been constructed, and their uses, sizes, locations and appearances vary widely.
When futurist Stewart Brand needed a place to assemble all the material he needed to write How Buildings Learn, he converted a shipping container into office space, and wrote up the conversion process in the same book.
In 2006, Southern California Architect Peter DeMaria , designed the first two story shipping container home in the U.S. as an approved structural system under the strict guidelines of the nationally recognized Uniform Building Code (UBC).
Several architects, such as Adam Kalkin have built original homes, using discarded shipping containers for their parts or using them in their original form, or doing a mix of both.
In 2000, the firm Urban Space Management completed the project called Container City I in the Trinity Buoy Wharf area of London. The firm has gone on to complete additional container-based building projects, with more underway. In 2006, the Dutch company Tempohousing finished in Amsterdam the biggest container village in the world: 1,000 student homes from modified shipping containers from China.
In 2002 standard ISO shipping containers began to be modified and used as stand-alone on-site wastewater treatment plants . The use of containers creates a cost-effective, modular, and customizable solution to on-site wastewater treatment and eliminates the need for construction of a separate building to house the treatment system.
Brian McCarthy, an MBA student, saw many poor neighborhoods in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico during an MBA field trip in the 2000s. Since then he developed prototypes of shipping container housing for typical maquiladora workers in Mexico.
Empty shipping containers are commonly used as market stalls and warehouses in the countries of the former USSR.
The biggest shopping mall or organized market in Europe is made up of alleys formed by stacked containers, on of land, between the airport and the central part of Odessa, Ukraine. Informally named "Tolchok" and officially known as the Seventh-Kilometer Market it has 16,000 vendors and employs 1,200 security guards and maintenance workers.
In Central Asia, the Dordoy Bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, almost entirely composed of double-stacked containers, is of comparable size. It is popular with travelers coming from Kazakhstan and Russia to take advantage of the cheap prices and plethora of knock-off designers.
Shipping containers have also been used as
- Press Boxes
- Emergency hurricane shelters for thoroughbred horses
- Concession Stands
- Fire Training Facility
- Military Training Facility
- Emergency shelters
- School buildings
- Urban homes
- Rural homes
- Apartment and office buildings
- Artists' studios
- Large houses
- Moveable exhibition spaces on rails
- Telco hubs
- Bank vaults
- Medical clinics
- Radar stations
- Shopping malls
- Sleeping rooms
- Recording Studios
- Abstract art
- Transportable factories
- Data centers (in the form of Project Blackbox)
- Experimental labs
- Clandestine Cannabis gardens
- Combatant Temporary Containment (ventilated)
- Intermodal sealed storage on ships, trucks, and trains
- House Foundations on unstable seismic zones
- Elevator/stairwell shafts
Containers used for housing and other architecture
Containers are in many ways an ideal building material, because they are strong, durable, stackable, cuttable, movable, modular, plentiful and relatively cheap. It is not surprising then that architects as well as laypeople have utilized them to build homes, offices, apartments, schools, dormitories, artists' studios, emergency shelters and many other uses. They are also used to provide temporary secure spaces on construction sites and other venues on "as is" basis instead of building shelters.
During the 1991 Gulf War ("Desert Storm"), containers saw considerable nonstandard uses, not only as makeshift shelters but also for the transportation of Iraqi prisoners of war. Holes were cut in the containers to allow for ventilation and there were no reported ill effects from this method. Containers continue to be used for military shelters, often additionally fortified by adding sandbags to the side walls to protect against weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades ("RPGs").
The abundance and relative cheapness during the last decade comes from the deficit in manufactured goods coming from North America in the last two decades. These manufactured goods come to North America from Asia and, to a lesser extent, Europe, in containers that often have to be shipped back empty ("deadhead"), at considerable expense. It is often cheaper to buy new containers in China and elsewhere in Asia, and to try to find new applications for the used containers that have reached their North American cargo destination.