Shipping Container Architecture

“The Greeks took marble, and they made copies of their wooden structures because they had done it that way. Then the Renaissance masters came along and made copies and made copies of the same in plaster. Now here we are, making copies in steel and concrete of copies in plaster, of copies made in marble and wood. Why?”


As the protagonist in Ayn Rand's book – The Fountainhead, Howard Roark rightfully explained, “What can be done with one substance must never be done with another. No two materials are alike. The purpose, the site, the material determines the shape.” In the book Howard resembles and reflects upon the artistic emotion of an architect with an ecstatic mind pushing its boundaries to boost innovative and out-of-the-box thinking. But what if the structural system is a modular block such as a shipping container? With such material in hand, you cannot copy a design but come up with an ingenious concept and design. Reminiscing the innovative ideologies of Howard Roark, dwipbox discusses turning the shipping container, a mundane and pervasive object, into something desirable and transformational.

In the early 1950s, Malcolm McLean developed the shipping containers, revolutionizing the transport industry. He did not know then, that he would be revolutionizing the construction industry as well. Shipping container architecture is a style of architecture utilizing the containers as a structural component. Architects avail a number of these containers, which are uneconomical to ship back empty to their countries of origin, to construct sustainable modular structures.

Other than the sustainability and economic factor, shipping containers have a set of advantages to be used in construction.

Containers are designed to be stacked in high columns, carrying heavy loads, and resist harsh environments. As these containers are of the same width with two standard height and length measurements, they provide a modular element that can be combined into large structures, simplifying the design, planning, and transport. Although the welding and cutting of steel is considered as specialized labor, it is still lower than the conventional construction.

Shipping containers would also be a good option to be used in conservation projects. For example, the site of Stow Away Hotels in London is owned by the Railway and was vacant due to enemy action during the Second World War. The hotel used 30ft (ca. 9 m) containers as the building system and in turn meets the Network Rails Asset Protection Agreement, which requires the scheme to be dismantled within 28 days.

A major limitation of using shipping containers is maintaining the temperature and humidity of the structure. The container should be well insulated in environments with extreme temperate variations. As a container may carry a variety of cargo in its working time, the interior surfaces should be checked for spillage and contamination, abrasive blasted to bare metal and repainted with non-toxic paint. The floors are treated with insecticides containing copper, chromium, and arsenic, the floors need to be removed and disposed before human habitation. Despite the above constraints and creativity snubbed to a modular design, just like large lego blocks, it triggers the imagination of the playful architects and meets the flavor palette of the high life enthusiasts to eventually evolve into a trending architecture style for the upper-class industry segment.

Founded by Roger Wade, the Boxpark was designed as a mini brand-city loaded with a blend of fashion and lifestyle brands, galleries, cafés, and restaurants, creating a unique shopping and dining experience. The mall integrates as a prolific network of brands, packed with expertise, development, and disposition that puts inventiveness and design back on the street. Keeping the Shoreditch phenomenon “the edgier it seems, then the more everything costs” in mind, the mall thrives on the notion of the pop-up retail environment made of shipping containers accommodating brands that have the potential to flourish. The Boxpark Shoreditch eventually turned out to be a huge success turning into a major tourist destination. The iterations of the concept were designed in Croydon, Wembley, and Dubai.

Although the containers were first used for houses and low-cost apartments, the metal structures are versatile and are used for a variety of projects in the world.


1. Caterpillar House, Chile

Built in the outskirts of Santiago, in a new suburban residential area, Sebastian Irarrazaval used five 40” standard containers, six 20” standard containers, and one 40” standard container on the top for

the swimming pool. With a strong presence of the Andes Mountain, the primary purpose of the design was to integrate it with this part of the territory. The secondary purpose was to avoid mechanical ventilation by allowing external air to run smoothly through the house.


2. Container City, London

Container City is a set of container spaces in London, first installed in 2001 at Trinity Buoy Wharf. The “city” reuses vibrantly colored shipping containers at the end of their lives to provide modules for accommodation and office spaces. This concept drastically reduces construction time and improves sustainability.


3. Devil’s Corner Winery, Australia

The entrance to the wine cellar of the Tasmanian vineyard and food market consists of 10 reused containers – 5 in the lookout and 5 in the market area. The steel containers are cladded with wooden trims and were used to reduce the transportation cost and time and due to the structural integrity as well as adaptability and flexibility of steel.


4. Bayside Marina Hotel, Japan

The cottages in Bayside Marina Hotel consist of 2 shipping containers stacked on top of each other. The modular cottages are randomly placed on the site to provide different views for each residence. The containers used in the project were fabricated in Thailand and assembled in Japan to reduce the transportation cost.



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