Everything old is new again. This even pertains to shipping containers, some of the older of which are being transformed into homes as part of what’s known as the container home trend. This trend is also spreading to multifamily and even office space, with trendy office denizens putting them inside the building as individual offices.

Why is this becoming a big deal? Let’s find out.

First off, what is shipping container architecture? Simply, it’s the use of containers as a building material, which has become increasingly popular in the last few years since they are strong, widely available, and relatively more cost-effective than other building materials.

Now let’s look at some advantages of using shipping containers for this purpose:

Strength. Shipping containers are specifically built to carry heavy loads and to resist the pressure of being stacked in high columns, along with harsh environments. This durability means that shipping containers also have the potential to be adapted for secure storage space.

Modular nature. With standard width and only two standard height and length measurements, shipping containers are easily combined into larger structures, thereby making design, planning, and transport far simpler. In addition, they are also designed to interlock, making transport even easier.

Cost of labor. While steel welding and cutting is considered specialized labor, it’s still cheaper than typical construction on an overall basis.

Expense. Used shipping containers can be had at relatively low amounts compared to other types of finished structures using bricks and mortar. As noted above, labor is also less pricey.

Environmentally friendly. Upcycling shipping containers saves thousands of pounds of steel. In addition, going this route reduces the amount of traditional building materials going into a particular project.

Let’s look at a few examples of shipping-container architecture in use today:

  • Arthur Mac’s Tap and Snack beer garden in Oakland, Calif., uses shipping containers as fencing along with other design elements such as outdoor booths, creating a fun and funky environment for patrons.
  • Futurist Stewart Brand converted a shipping container into office space in order to assemble the materials for How Buildings Learn, writing up that conversion process in the book as well.
  • Southern California architect Peter DeMaria was responsible for designing the first two-story shipping container home in the United States in 2006 – a home in Redondo Beach that inspired cargo container-based prefabricated home firm Logical Homes.
  • The firm Urban Space Management in 2000 built the Container City I project in London’s Trinity Buoy Wharf area. Since that time, the firm has completed other such projects, with more on tap.
  • MBA student Brian McCarthy visited Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, observing the city’s many impoverished neighborhoods. This spurred him to develop shipping-container housing prototypes for Mexican workers.

These, of course, are just a few ideas for innovation using shipping containers, whose low cost and high environmental promise make them a new wave of the future. It’s time for you go out and create your own projects!

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