When we think of innovative and incredible architecture, shipping containers are usually not what comes to mind. Sure, we all know what these are, but these simple, industrial boxes do not, at first glance, appear to be good for much more than moving things from one point of the globe to another.
However, this is quickly changing. Shipping containers are becoming more and more popular as a building material. They are durable, portable, air and watertight, and relatively inexpensive. Plus, there are literally millions of these things scattered around the globe, many of them old and ready for the landfills, which are already pretty full with the rest of our garbage.
The value of shipping containers goes beyond their practicality and effectiveness. A container can serve as the centerpiece of some pretty exciting design concepts, many of which would actually not be possible without shipping containers.
Repurposing shipping containers has helped shed light on just how much we can do as a species with the materials and products we've already harvested from the Earth, opening up an opportunity to reduce the amount of waste we produce and the environmental damage it causes. To give you an idea of just how much is possible, take a look at these 15 incredible shipping container constructions from around the world.
While shipping containers themselves are simple, the designs that architects can make with them are anything but. Below are four homes designed using just shipping containers that will blow you away and make you rethink what is possible.
Source: Whitaker Studio
Made out of fifteen different shipping containers, the Joshua Tree Residence, located in California, was designed by architect James Whitaker, founder of the London-based architecture firm, Whitaker Studios. It's constructed using stacked shipping containers set into the desert mountainside that give the building the shape of a blooming flower when viewed from above.
Each of the shipping containers has a window at the end, allowing the bright desert sky to filter into the building and illuminate it with plenty of natural light. The building sits on a 90-acre plot of land in Joshua tree, the California desert famous for its harsh yet breathtaking natural landscape.
Such a design is truly a marvel of modern architecture, though it's not likely to be to everyone's taste. Yet even if it isn't your favorite, one can not help but be in awe of how such a design could be created using something as simple as shipping containers.
Source: Flagstaff Container House
The first container home built in Arizona, the Flagstaff Container House, is an excellent example of the stellar designs you can create using containers. Overall, this construction is simplistic, but it's this simplicity that makes it elegant and noteworthy. Not to mention how it is built into the natural environment.
With an area of just over 2,000 square feet, the Flagstaff Container House is no tiny home. It was built with a budget of only $60,000, which is considerably less than what you would pay to build a traditional home of the same size.
While certainly not the Midwest or Northeast, Flagstaff is located in the coldest part of Arizona, a region that regularly sees cold winds, rain, and snow. Yet this structure has stood without issue since 2011, making this house an example of the versatility of shipping containers and also their durability.
For those wanting to see more, here's a full gallery of the Flagstaff Container House.
Source: Demaria Design
Located in Redondo Beach, California, this container home is a perfect example of how shipping boxes can be reused to create durable, elegant homes at a fraction of the cost. This particular building has two stories and features 20-foot ceilings, making lots of open space and a chic, modern look.
These ceilings also open up to the property via folding airplane doors, which is both a tremendous design element and an exciting example of how we can repurpose things in innovative ways.
Eight shipping containers make up this house, though there is some traditional stick-frame construction involved to help bring them together. Interestingly, the house's swimming pool is also made out of a shipping container, a use that is growing in popularity.
The Redondo Beach House was built in 2007 and has won numerous awards for its unique design elements and creative use of shipping containers.
Source: The Southampton Press
If there were ever a place for luxurious, cutting-edge architecture to find a home, surely it would be "The Hamptons." Located at the tip of Long Island, New York, these beach communities have long been the summer home destinations for the rich and the famous who hail from the Big Apple. As a result, there is a particular market for innovative design concepts and pocketbooks willing to finance more "outside-the-box" designs.
The Beach Box, located in Southampton, is constructed using six shipping containers. There are just under 2,000 square feet of living space in this house, enough for four bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms. There is also a heated pool, a roof deck, and around 1,300 square feet of decking.
While recognized for its innovative design, the Beach Box was meant to be the first of many container homes in the area. It was supposed to be the first of six that would have been built near one another as a sort of container home community.
However, after the Beach Box sold for considerably less than predicted (mainly because of its proximity to the nearby highway and because the home is relatively small compared to others in the area), the project was scrapped. However, one could easily argue that this improves the Beach Box's appeal, as for now, it's truly is one of a kind.
Next to the housing industry, hotel developers have also been eager to jump on the shipping container construction trend and have found some unique ways to repurpose these boxes and make them into some pretty exciting structures. Here are a few of our favorites from around the world:
When construction on the Winebox Hotel in Valparaiso, Chile began, founder Grant Phelps had one idea on his mind: sustainability. He'd purchased land atop one of the taller hills in Valparaiso that afforded splendid views of the city and then made the commitment to build something using entirely repurposed materials. For this hotel, Phelps only used shipping containers being taken out of use, meaning they were headed for the landfill, ensuring that his construction didn't generate new waste and cut down on the amount of new waste created.
The design Phelps and his architects came up with is unique even though it draws on a style – the chic, industrial look – to which shipping containers lend themselves. Part of this is because the hotel was designed to match with the surrounding city. The inclusion of graffiti, in particular, was designed to help make the hotel blend even more with its surroundings.
In total, 25 containers were used to build the hotel, though considerable modifications had to be made for the final design to take shape. For example, all the containers needed to be modified so that WiFi signals – which the metal structures cut off completely – could make it inside and give guests internet access. Who knew?? WiFi in shipping containers!
Source: 6 Square Feet
One of the most significant benefits to building with shipping containers is that they can be moved pretty much anywhere, allowing them to be used as structures in all sorts of different areas.
The Container Cabin in the Catskills is a perfect example of this. It's nestled on a 20-acre plot in the eastern Catskill Mountains in Southeastern New York. Although a tiny space, there is plenty of room for two people, and because it's small, a stay in this container is sure to be cozy. If you do desire space, all you need to do is wander outside. The cabin is close to countless hiking trails, and it also features a hot tub filled by the local stream.
The simplicity of the design helps make it so unique and interesting. It's also what makes it possible to have the construction in such a remote location.
Source: Quadrum Gudauri
No, this is not the state of Georgia but rather the nation of Georgia, located in Eastern Europe. Not particularly well-known as a tourist destination at the moment, Georgia is becoming more and more of a draw primarily because it offers some truly stunning natural beauty, such as the mountains seen in the background of the Quadrum Ski and Yoga Resort.
As you can see, this building is built entirely out of shipping containers. Because of their size and how easily stackable they are, shipping boxes are a perfect material for this design type. Each container is its own room with its own view of the stunning vistas in the area.
The resort is not located directly on a ski mountain, but several are nearby. A stay here would allow you to relax in comfort, enjoy the views, and easily get to the slopes.
If any industry is always working hard to stay up on the latest trends, it's the restaurant industry. Eateries are always looking to be on the cutting edge in terms of the food they cook and the experience they provide to their customers.
It's natural, then, that shipping containers have become more common in restaurant scenes worldwide. Here are a few unique designs we think stand out:
A Mexican restaurant whose name is inspired by the pronunciation of the Mexican city Oaxaca, this London restaurant became the talk of the town when it opened. Its popularity was due in part to its food – the crowds raved about its authentic, delicious dishes inspired by the country's legendary street food culture. Yet it also made such a splash because it also didn't look like any other restaurant in the city.
Built from four shipping containers arranged to allow for an outdoor dining area, Wahaca is a simplistic design that is also chic, elegant, modern, and unique.
Few alterations were made to the shipping containers themselves to maintain their rustic appeal. Still, the updates that were made helped highlight the uniqueness of this construction material and create an enjoyable atmosphere in which you can enjoy award-winning Mexican food.
Source: En Riviera Maya
Sometimes it's the most simplistic designs that are the most catching. At DK Morelos in Puerto Morelos, Mexico – a city on the Riviera Maya, the region along the coast south of Cancun – the shipping container the designers used to create the restaurant remains basically the same as the day it came off the boat.
Except for doors and windows and additions to make it possible to cook and service customers – the structure remains essentially the same. The addition of outdoor space and well-chosen lighting helps this place stick out as the "cool" place to be.
In addition to this, the restaurant only serves lion-fish, which is an invasive species that are cool to look at but that wreak havoc on local reefs. The restaurant wants to encourage this species to be caught and eaten so that the other fish in the sea can have a chance, a noble cause for sure. Together with the decision to build a restaurant out of a shipping container, these efforts show a genuine commitment to sustainability, which is at the core of the movement to use these boxes as construction materials.
Sources: Design Stack
When most of us think of shipping containers, our first thoughts are usually of tight, cramped spaces. However, as we've seen with some of the other constructions on this list, this is often not the case, especially when people get creative.
In Medellin, Colombia – a city very much in the process of reinventing itself – shipping containers were used as the basic construction element for the Contenedores Food Place.
Using multiple contenedores – the Spanish word for shipping container – and by stacking them in such a way, this particular design shows once again how many different ways these boxes can be incorporated into a design. When spaced as they are here and complemented by some natural elements, they make for an ideal blend between green and gray, proving a refreshing yet familiar look to the sprawling urban landscape that is Medellin.
In Australia, the Devil's Corner winery and restaurant, located on the sparsely populated island of Tasmania, has injected an aura of urban modernity into its rural surroundings, creating a unique space for visitors to wine and dine in the countryside.
Upon first glance, though, the building does not even seem as though it belongs on this planet, let alone in the Tasmanian countryside. But after spending some time with the design, it becomes easier to see how it fits.
The open space allows for gatherings, and the use of a vertical shipping container as a lookout tower makes it possible to enjoy the surrounding area's vistas.
The uniqueness of this design and construction help make this one of the more interesting structures we've looked at. It just goes to show that with the right approach and understanding of design, shipping containers can be incorporated into a wide variety of environments and not only not look out of place but add quite significantly to the overall image.
Clearly, there are few limits to what we can do with a shipping container, and part of the reason for this is their versatility and practicality. The design community has caught onto this, but they're not the only ones. Shipping containers are now being used for a wide range of different things, and while the designs might not be quite as "flashy," the purpose behind these buildings makes them so much more beautiful.
Here are a few examples of how shipping containers have been put to good use:
Source: Architects for a Cause
Built by the South African architecture firm Architects for a Cause, this school in Malawi is 100 percent off-grid. It has a water collection system and solar panels and was built – except for the shipping containers – using locally sourced materials. Everything from the straw used on the roof to the bricks used to supplement the containers came from the surrounding area.
In total, the school is more than 4,000 square feet, but it's also completely expandable. The design used allows for more containers to be added later and ultimately integrate into the original construction. They are also an ideal material in this scenario because they are so durable; they will not deteriorate no matter the environmental conditions.
Although built to be a school, it can also serve as a community center or even a marketplace.
When there is an emergency – whether it be a hurricane, an earthquake, or a pandemic – often one of the biggest challenges to helping people is that there aren't enough facilities available to treat people. In the past, tents have been the go-to solution for this, but no matter how heavy duty a tent is, it's still a tent.
Shipping containers have found a use here. They are large enough to serve as makeshift treatment centers and are durable enough to withstand any conditions (and are also waterproof). They can be transported easily enough from one place to another, meaning they can be moved to where there is the greatest need.
One of the most recent examples of this occurred during 2020 when COVID-19 hospitalizations were rising so rapidly in the Southern US state of Georgia that the hospitals began running out of beds. This practice has also been carried out in many other places worldwide and is a common practice of the United Nations.
The Colombian company Cura has started specializing in making these portable medical facilities, increasing their availability and functionality. Here's what one of these Cura boxes looks like:
Source: Design Bloom
In this case, there is only one example, and in reality, it's still just an idea. Yet we felt the renderings of this bridge were so interesting that this project was worth including on this list.
This bridge is to be built in Israel sometime before 2025, and when it's complete, it will have the unique pleasure of being able to call itself the only bridge in the world made entirely out of shipping containers.
As you can see from the design, the containers would be cut on one side and combined, making it possible for there to be several lanes of traffic plus space for pedestrians.
It will be interesting to see if more people start building bridges out of these materials in the coming years. After all, they are relatively inexpensive (brand new containers can be had for a few thousand dollars). They are also extremely durable – don't forget they were made to cross oceans fully exposed to the elements while keeping the goods inside safe and dry.
For now, though, this is the only project of its kind in the world, and it's genuinely one of the more interesting examples of shipping containers being repurposed, one that shows that the sky is the limit.
Below you can find a few different shipping container homes that didn't quite fit into any of the categories we've already discussed. That these boxes have been able to be put to so many uses shows just how versatile they are as a construction material.
Over the past few decades, as this trend started emerging, people all over the globe have managed to create some truly unique and inspiring shipping container constructions. Yet we feel as though we are really at the beginning of this movement. These early examples have helped show the world how much can be done with such a simple material. As the world moves forward and the need to reuse existing resources increases, expect shipping containers to be used for more and more things. And as this happens, get ready for what will surely be some innovative and exciting designs.