Humans are an innovative race, ever so active in finding ways to improve and develop. From being hunters and gatherers living in tents and primitive structures, as a civilization, we have grown into sophisticated people with technological advancement. 

“The most innovative designers consciously reject the standard option box and cultivate an appetite for thinking wrong.” -Marty Neumeier.

Through the ages, all the designers strived to generate innovative ideas that would create history and become their legacy. All thanks to such visionaries, we now have tall skyscrapers and deep underground buildings. One such path-breaking idea is shipping container architecture.

Fondly known as “cargotecture” the concept of using reused shipping containers as the mainframe for a building emerged in the early 2000s. It soon picked up the fire and became a favoured experimental concept due to its low cost, less construction time, and the very fact that we are creating “wealth from waste.” 

With increased awareness about sustainable development and green buildings, container building got preference as a container was reused, and its lifecycle increased. Though shipping containers haven’t become conventional yet, it sure has created ripples. 

Below are 10 such ingenious projects that broke ground as well as the perception of people:

1. Ty Kelly Residence

Designed by Architect Ty Kelly in the scenic Montana plains, this one-bedroom house has been constructed with reclaimed materials. The framework contains two shipping containers, and reclaimed redwood planks are used for the floor finish, and the façade. The rear side has a full-height glass façade that brings beautiful views into the house and diminishes the line separating the interior and exterior spaces. 

The 720 Sq. ft house has a balanced composition of old-world elements like the wood stove and modern technology incorporated in it. The counters made using leftover lumber were handmade by Mr.Kelly himself. 

One of the most interesting things about the project is the outdoor shower on the side deck area that truly symbolizes going back to the roots. This house is serene and looks like it has been frozen, in time.

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Rear side of the residence that extends into nature_©www.housebeautiful.com
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The quaint outdoor shower_©inhabitat.com
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Artfully designed minimalistic interiors_©inhabitat.com

2. The Beach Box

Built on the dunes of Amagansett, using six used shipping containers, the beach box is Hampton’s first container house. The 2000 Sq.Feet mansion has four bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms on the lower floor. A grand custom kitchen, living, dining spaces, a spacious balcony, and outdoor deck areas are on the upper level. 

The outdoor areas include a pool on the lower floor that brings the user closer to the sea, providing unhindered views. Opulent interiors have been designed with FSC certified cypress siding, and white oak flooring gives it a contemporary touch. The mudroom and outdoor shower in the deck are unique additions that add USP to the summer house. 

The summer retreat was designed as a sustainable building with spray foam insulation, a reflective thermoplastic roof, and Eco-top counters. The landscape in the 0.17 acres plot is done with indigenous grass. The energy consumption and carbon footprint of the house are low as most of the materials are reused and all the services and appliances used are highly efficient and energy conserving. 

Since steel used in containers is resistant to salt and water, container houses can be considered advantageous in seaside construction. 

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The exterior view of beach box_©www.housebeautiful.com
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Lavish interiors of the upper level_©www.jetsongreen.com
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The large openings frame the outdoor spaces, blurring the line between the open and enclosed spaces_©inhabitat.com

3. The Grillagh Water House

The Grillagh water house located on remote farmland in Northern Ireland is Architect Patrick Bradley’s brainchild. Inspired by F.L. Wright’s masterpiece Fallingwater, the residence employs a similar concept of daring cantilevered spaces. 

Built with four shipping containers, the G+1 structure complements the surrounding picturesque views but stands out due to its unique façade treatment of dark grey coloured expanded metal on the upper portion and natural corten steel on the lower level. 

Designed in context to the terrain, the linear house unravels itself with every step the viewer takes, creating a visually exciting experience. The lower floor contains living spaces that include living, dining, and kitchen designed as a free-flowing space, balcony spaces, and a bedroom. Since the entire area is an open plan that merges into the farmlands and forest beyond, the viewer feels like they are in tandem with nature. 

The upper floor is designed along with the sun bringing in natural light and cutting down the heat. Glimpses of the serene outdoors are brought into the spaces by the expansive openings and balcony.

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The front view of the Grillagh water house depicting the dramatic cantilever balcony_©Aidan Monaghan Photography
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Side view of the house showing the beautiful way in which it blends with the surroundings_©Aidan Monaghan Photography
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Elevation showing the massing of the house in relation to the surrounding terrain_©www.arch2o.com
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The contrasting material textures and colours add a character to the exterior_©Aidan Monaghan Photography

4. The Container Cabin

Built using one 40′ and six 20′ containers, the container cabin is a two-story structure, designed as a retreat. The two-bedroom house has ample outdoor space that includes the front and back deck spaces, sheltered by the container housing the master bedroom on the first floor. 

While the front deck area acts as a congregation space, the back deck is designed to function as an intimate family space, having the backdrop of the beautiful mountain range. The container is life exposed in the interior and exterior alike show-casing the undulating corrugations. 

This off-grid project by Tomecek studio is a perfect example of a container house true to the material.

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The approach view of the Canon city container cabin_©www.archute.com
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The minimalistic interiors are accentuated by the corrugations of the containers_©inhabitat.com
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The front porch acts as a gathering space_©inhabitat.com

5. Escape Den

Located in a sparsely populated area in Bangladesh, the escape den was designed as a multi-level structure with indoor spaces connected by outdoor spaces. The exposed steel frame of the building, coupled with the exposed container’s undulating surface, adds a rustic look. The rough look of the containers is softened by the trees and the vines which are integrated as a part of the design. 

The expansive openings, intelligently zoned courtyard, and deck spaces that weave themselves around indoor spaces and terraces at multiple levels make the building breezy and lightweight despite the heavy metal supports being exposed. The triple-height central courtyard space acts as a central space, connecting the two separate spaces. 

Built using three shipping containers, the spaces are organised into three levels and split equally into indoor and outdoor spaces. The massing of the building is interesting due to the varied orientations of containers and the alternation of open and closed spaces.

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The very sight of escape den gives the viewer a sense of tranquility_©www.housebeautiful.com
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The cantilever terraces at various levels acts as a family space, symbolically bringing the members together_©inhabitat.com
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The entire structure looks like it is floating due to the open spaces that weave around it_©inhabitat.com

6. Joshua Tree Residence

Located in a desert of the Californian mountainside, the Joshua tree residence’s form was envisaged as a starburst exoskeleton with multiple containers oriented in various directions conglomerating into a central container forming the entry. This 2000 Sq. ft residence is lifted off the rocky terrain by concrete columns that visually look like a floating mass. 

The white painted surface of the container is in stark contrast to the rustic rocky surrounding. The orientation of each container is carefully designed to maximise the views and to enhance privacy. 

Due to the form, the interior spaces are enhanced by multiple angular surfaces and square openings bringing in light from various heights and angles causing an interesting play of light and shadow. The three-bedroom house has an open dining area and an expansive open-plan indoor living space that includes a kitchen.

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The rustic setting of Joshua tree residence_©www.housebeautiful.com
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A closer view of the house showing the full height glass facade_©www.whitakerstudio.co.uk
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The interiors have a neutral colour scheme of white and grey with bright accent colored furniture. The whole space is enhanced by the beautiful views of the rocky mountains_©www.whitakerstudio.co.uk
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Each space inside the house has a different look and feel due to the versatility in the views that are framed and the angles that are made_©www.whitakerstudio.co.uk

7. Graceville Mansion

Built using thirty-one shipping containers, the Graceville mansion is a sprawling four-bedroom house designed on three levels. This floor proof house has amenities, a home office, and a studio on the ground floor, and the first floor comprises the expansive open plan living space, study, and three bedrooms. The second floor housed the master bedroom and a large open terrace area. 

Spread over 6000 sq. ft, this house shows the extent to which containers could be adapted to a user’s needs. Rock wool insulation, bamboo flooring, and upcycled railway sleepers are used to finish up the interiors to ensure an environmentally conscious building. 

The projected portion of the exterior was clad with wood to break the flow and make it stand out. Large glass openings and exposed container walls depict an industrial feel in the interiors.

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Exterior view of the majestic Graceville mansion_©www.archute.com
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The large open plan living space in the first floor creates a family core_©medium.com
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The colossal openings bring in ample amounts of natural light bathing the interior spaces_©medium.com

8. Webber Island HO4+

Designed and assembled by Honomobo, the Webber Island HO4+ is the first prefab container building constructed by the company. While Honomobo has an array of design concepts in container buildings that could be customised in multiple aspects, this project set the stage for their operations in Canada. 

Constructed in under a month, this three-bedroom house spread over 1300 Sq.ft was envisioned as a single-occupancy house. Set on the shore of a river, the expansive glass walls on two sides connect the indoor and outdoor areas. 

The tastefully designed interiors are insulated by spray foam and have plasterboard walls. The walls and ceiling are clad with wood to complete the contemporary house. The minimalist, exposed external façade has been painted in charcoal grey to stand out. 

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Set atop a small hillock, the Webber island H04+ contrasts the surrounding lush green landscape_©www.honomobo.com
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The prefabricated containers had the interiors finished in the factory and were merely assembled on site_©www.honomobo.com
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View of the living space_©inhabitat.com
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The customizable interiors have a contemporary design,technologically advanced and have highly energy efficient appliances_©www.honomobo.com

9. Manifesto House

Designed by Architects James & Mau, this 1700 Sq.Ft. was designed using two 40′ containers and two 20′ containers. Constructed using sustainable and recycled materials, the climate-responsive structure has spaces designed across two floors. 

The containers are left exposed in the interiors, and the corrugation accentuates the spaces while the exterior is enhanced by wooden planks and recycled pellets on one side. The pallets form a second skin that can be adapted and modified based on climate. The Façade is designed to cut down heat and enhance air circulation, thus reducing the heating and cooling cost of the house. 

Large sliding glass doors punctuate the living space on the ground floor, and a balcony on the first floor serves as the open space on that floor. One of the most innovative concepts in this project is the dynamic façade. The palettes are hinged and can be opened, and respond to the climate. The plank walls can be opened vertically to form horizontal shading devices that shade the outdoor spaces.

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The pallets can be opened out as per the weather conditions, while the plank portion on the facade can be opened into awning_©inhabitat.com
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The dynamic facade of the Manifesto house is one of the most innovative uses of recycled material._©www.arch2o.com
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The indoor spaces can be expanded and spilled into the outdoors by opening the plank wall that would serve as a horizontal shading device_©inhabitat.com

10. Caterpillar House

Built on the rocky sloped terrain, on the foot of Andes Mountain, the residence is designed in context to the terrain. The 3800 Sq.ft house has a portion of it sloped along the terrain, forming a curious form. Built using six 40′ and six 20′ reused containers, all the spaces in the house are zoned to have maximum sunlight and movement of air. 

As a result, all the spaces are oriented along the long axis. Due to the orientation of the spaces, the play of light and shadow in the interiors of the building ensures a dynamic character to the spaces. Massive skylights and large openings frame the breath-taking views of the surroundings, and also make the bulky construction visually light. 

The façade is finished using low-cost wood that also enhances the climate responsiveness of the structure. Due to the form and the linear design, the building has multiple levels and connecting staircases.

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The form of the caterpillar house is similar to multiple cuboids extruded along the slope of the terrain_©Sergio Pirrone
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View showing the form of the building along the terrain_©Sergio Pirrone
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A section showing various levels in the house_©www.archdaily.com
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View showing the angled containers terminating in a skylight that washes the entire house in natural light_©Sergio Pirrone

Though there are only a few people using the idea of making shipping container houses, it is an idea that is a force to be reckoned with in the future. But that said, there are two sides to a coin. Even though it has a platoon of advantages, it also brings disadvantages or drawbacks to the plate. Some of those are the high insulation cost, the additional overhead cost to ensure it doesn’t cause any health hazard. 

One of the most important things to consider before breaking ground for a project is that though reusing the containers saves the energy involved in recycling them, the container might have a high carbon footprint due to the process involved in transporting it. 

Thus, an extensive lifecycle analysis of the container must be done before deciding on using it in a project.

Author

Srinidhi Sriraman is a climate responsive architect who believes in giving back to the environment. A travel enthusiast who strongly believes “what is life worth if there are no stories to tell.” She took to writing to share, learn and also grow in the process.

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