Homes made from shipping containers

Treehugger has a collection of a dozen fantastic, recession-compliant homes and buildings made from old shipping containers, the packets of the sea. I really like this South Melbourne playground made from everyone's favorite big steel boxes, but there's plenty more to love on the site. Last year, I nearly rented an office in a building made from pieced-together containers -- it was a beautiful space, but I ended up going with something cheaper (a space in a rotting Victorian factory in Clerkenwell).

Shipping containers are cheap, plentiful and strong. I grew up surrounded by containers (and helped my dad design the Kalkinesque warehouse shown above for Northern Canada in the seventies) and always thought the interior dimensions too small, the floors too toxic and the problems of insulating and making them comfortable too challenging, but dozens of architects and shipping container designs have proven me wrong. Let's count the ways.
Crate Expectations: 12 Shipping Container Housing Ideas (via Consumerist)


  1. I don’t know the situation in Australia, but in the United States old shipping containers are often contaminated with asbestos. It can be the biggest barrier to using them for something as productive as your suggestion.

  2. For years we’ve been seeing tons of concept pieces and architectural wonders based on shipping containers. What we haven’t been seeing too often is simple, affordable housing that’s actually available for sale. Does anyone know of companies which are actually selling CHEAP container homes today?

  3. I have often thought that if i was a billionaire or for some other reason had obscene amounts of money to get rid of, one of the projects I would undertake would be taking the large number of Containers in Middle eastern ports and building clean urban housing for many of the poor people of Africa.

    I think such a project would both recycle a large source of wasted resources and create an awesome opportunity to get poorer nations into modern but sustainable lifestyles. Well worth the investment in the long run.

    Anybody have a couple billion they want to send me?

  4. #2 EOSHA Has the right idea… there is potentially a lot of business for a company that is willing to grab a bunch of containers, make them habitable, ship them, and finish the setup on site. Until that is the case stop teasing us Internet!

  5. Damn, I wish I could find the issue (I don’t even know if I have a copy), but a couple of years ago I did pre-press work for Chicago Magazine & there was an article on this. I believe I read about this idea on BB prior. I love the idea, I would love to design and have a home built using this tech. Is it cost effective? (have not read this article yet). I have a pretty sweet pad right now, but it’s a rental, when I do buy I would prefer a custom home. Nothing against anyone who lives in the burbs, but for ME and my partner, we are not partial to three options for a house. I am very aware that I am looking at a more expensive market, but I’m okay with that…..yeah, I rent (& I’m a bit delusional sometimes).

    I really like unique homes.

  6. I’m unconvinced that modifying shipping containers into housing will ever be cost effective for any sort of mass production.

    The basic container design has very few features that are beneficial to human habitation. They’re strong, but many of the ways that you’d want to modify them for housing will end up mitigating much of the inherent structural stability. And making a building the size of a cargo container structurally sound isn’t particularly difficult anyways. Containers are relatively cheap, but you have to spend a chunk of money compensating for all the ways that they’re unfit for living in.

    Once you factor in economies of scale and mass production, you’re not going to be seeing any sort of amazing savings by using containers.

  7. They missed quite a few of the best designed houses.

    Here a link to a architecture firm that I think is doing the best job with container architecture. They are called DeMaria Design Associates, and are located in California.

  8. #2 Anonymous- Asbestos? [citation needed]. There’s not much to them but cor-ten steel and wood floors. I deal with them for a living, and I’m not aware of the asbestos you speak of.


    Safety Alert – Exposure to formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds in Caravans, Mobile Homes and Demountable Buildings

    7 August 2008

    Comcare has received confirmed reports of employees living in converted shipping containers being adversely affected by elevated levels of formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

    Employees, contractors and individuals living or working in caravans, mobile homes and demountable buildings (including converted shipping containers) face a potential health risk of exposure to formaldehyde and other VOCs.

  10. “Last year, I nearly rented an office in a building made from pieced-together containers” Where was that? In London?

  11. Unfortunately these are constantly being cited for code violations in the U.S. See the Shipyard (an arts space in Berkeley) and then NIMBY (arts space in Oakland). Reason for the code violations: apparently big steel boxes are fire hazards.

    My friend uses one as a storage shed on his ranch in northern California, and a building inspector recently fined him for it. Reason: it could blow away. It’s a giant steel box filled with scrap metal.


    America, land of the free.

  12. the toxic debate aside I can think of 2 other reasons why containers would make bad housing materials

    1) they are metal and highly conductive to heat and cold, meaning ovens in summer and fridges in winter. If you follow either link to the DeMaria web site and look at the steps taken to build the house featured, you can see the architect has tried to ensure some kind of internal temperature balance by fabricating the over roof and linking mid section from timber in an attempt to ensure at least some of the metal surfaces won’t be subject to external temperature fluctuations. However I wouldn’t like to be in any of the south facing rooms at midday.

    2) metal is also an excellent conductor of vibration – any measures taken to dampen this will reduce the internal living area, thus giving rise to a trade off between living space and noise reduction.

    I might add that in Japan housing is sometimes built from all steel frames (in other words a container with all the side panels cut out) with the buildings exhibiting noticeable internal temperature and noise fluctuation.

  13. There’s an LA firm called Jones Partners Architecture that deals a lot in shipping container buildings.

    They’re really wacky… the website is an experience, to say the least. They’ve got a flash-based “Taste Test” to see if their proprietary “BOSS” style is “right for you”.

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