Strong, durable and portable, shipping Container House stack easily and link together like Legos. About 25 million of these 20-by-40 feet multicolored boxes move through U.S. container ports a year, hauling children's toys, flat-screen TVs, computers, car parts, sneakers and sweaters.
But so much travel takes its toll, and eventually the containers wear out and are retired. That's when architects and designers, especially those with a "green" bent, step in to turn these cast-off boxes into student housing in Amsterdam, artists' studios, emergency shelters, health clinics, office buildings.
Despite an oft-reported glut of unused cargo containers lying idle around U.S. ports and ship yards - estimates have ranged from 700,000 to 2 million - the Intermodal Steel Building Units and Container Homes Association puts the number closer to 12,000, including what's sold on Craigslist and eBay.
Joel Egan, co-founder of HyBrid Architecture in Seattle, which has built cottages and office buildings from shipping containers for close to a decade and coined the term " cargotecture" to describe this method of construction, warns that although containers can be bought for as little as $2,500, they shouldn't be seen as a low-cost housing solution.
This 20-unit, four-story condo complex consisting of 93 stacked cargo containers - the first U.S. multi-family residence to be built from these discarded vessels - has been in the works for four years. Tabled when the national real estate market shattered, the project is now scheduled to break ground early next year in midtown Detroit. The units will come rigged with ductless heating and air systems, tankless water heaters and other energy-saving systems. "We're putting money into these energy efficiencies so that the tenant has reduced energy costs," says Leslie Horn, CEO of Three Squared, the project's developer. "And we can build in less than half the time."
Five freestanding cargo containers lined up and cinched together on a 3,000-acre ranch in the rugged, rocky high desert mountains of West Texas reduce life to its basics: One container holds a living room; two house bedrooms and bathrooms; another a kitchen and eating area, while the last is for storage.
I usually complain that shipping containers are too narrow and tight to make decent living spaces, but Cúbica have done a really good job of squeezing everything in here, including a full laundry, a workable kitchen and a bright bathroom, thanks to that shower with an exterior door. More at Cubica, via Dornob and Small House Bliss.
Shipping containers are designed for freight, not people, and it can be a challenge, trying to squeeze a house into them. The designers at Costa Rica's Cúbica have built some interesting shipping container houses, including this clever unit.
They keep the sun off the container Granny House (and maximise the interior space) by cladding it in metal siding, with an air space behind. Similarly the roof deck keeps the sun from hitting the container directly. A bump-out extension is added at one end to provide space for two bunks, as well as add a little visual variety. The sun shade folds down to seal up the unit for security.