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10 Creative Uses of Shipping Containers You Have to See to Believe

Sep 23, 2019

The shipping container is more than just a metal box that carries massive amounts of global commerce. It’s a valuable asset that continues to revolutionize the global economy and the way the world does business. As the container shipping industry continues to thrive, global trade occurs at a larger scale.

Data from Statista shows that in 2017, the global shipping container industry loaded about 1.83 billion metric tons of cargo for sea-based trade, valued at around $12 trillion. Of the 53,000 merchant ships trading internationally, over 11,000 ships were bulk carriers and over 5,100 were container ships. Danish shipping line APM-Maersk is currently the largest container-shipping company globally, with a total yearly capacity of more than 4 million TEUs and revenues at nearly $31 billion in 2017. 

There are enough shipping containers in use by the industry today that, if they were laid down to form a line, they would be able to encircle the world twice at the equator. You’ll find  countless variety of cargo in container ships, ranging from commodities, parts, and products to fresh food, liquids, and chemicals. Containerization has been aiding globalization, and this includes technological and organizational changes that effectively link the manufacturers with the consumers no matter where they are in the world. 

By reducing time, labor, and freight costs, containerization has dramatically changed the way we systematically transport goods over land and sea. The global economy increasingly became more integrated, and the volume of international trade rose as transport became more efficient.  

The Flexibility of the Shipping Container 

Shipping containers are vital to global trade, but there’s more to these steel boxes than meets the eye.  The rectangular shipping containers that you see piled high in ports all over the world are also becoming recycled materials that you can use to build homes, offices, and more. With a little imagination and maybe a splash of bright paint colors, shipping containers can be innovative construction materials that can captivate even the most discerning eye. 

The Intermodal Steel Building Units Association said that the architectural use of shipping containers—also known as “cargotecture”—started to become a trend in 2010. But as early as 1987, the idea of converting shipping containers into habitable buildings had already been discussed. Records show that a man named Phillip Clark filed a patent that outlined how reused shipping containers can be used to make homes in an economical way. His patent was granted in 1989. 

After which, the popularity of shipping containers quickly took off. Shipping containers made their way to the big screen as numerous buildings on the production set. The US Army used them as emergency shelters because they could easily be converted and fortified. American writer Stewart Brand also popularized the idea of converting shipping containers into office spaces in his book entitled “How Buildings Learn. In 2006, Californian architect Peter DeMaria designed the Redondo Beach House – the first shipping container home in the US. 

There are roughly around 11 million unused shipping containers around the world. This presents an opportunity to save thousands of kilograms of steel by repurposing them. For many eco-friendly builders and owners, shipping containers are cheap and sustainable options that help lessen the environmental impact of construction. 

Building with shipping containers is also cost-effective since buying one is much cheaper than traditional building materials like brick, mortar, and wood. Depending on its size and availability, an empty container costs anywhere between  $2,000 and $5,000. Put three containers together and you’ll have almost 1,000 square feet for less than $6,000. Shipping container homes with simple designs can be built for $50,000 or less.  

Shipping containers are designed to withstand harsh conditions and extreme weather. They are virtually indestructible, making them strong enough to be used as homes. A shipping container home will not only give you a sense of safety and security, but it also allows you to save on flooring, walls, and roofing. All you need to add is insulation and fixtures. 

You can do your part for the environment by recycling a container and saving it from being trashed or permanently disposed of. Repurposing containers instead of dumping and melting them effectively reduces carbon emissions and saves a lot of energy. 

High-quality insulation and passive cooling strategies like open-air ventilation can also make shipping containers as energy efficient as traditional homes. You can also take your eco-friendliness to the next level by using green roofs or installing solar panels for solar energy.  

Shipping containers can easily be remodelled, cut, or have items added to them to make them livable. With cargotecture, you cut construction time as you’ll need only about two to three weeks to build a home or commercial structure. This is because the main structure or frame is typically complete. You can also customize a layout by stacking the containers for multiple floors and splicing them for a larger space.

Apart from being easy to build, economical, and eco-friendly, shipping container homes and structures have a unique look. Whether you’re going for industrial, modern, or rugged, you can stack shipping containers vertically, lay them down side by side and build horizontally, or connect multiple containers to achieve the style you want. 

10 Creative Uses for Shipping Containers 

The shipping container is so simple yet it can accomplish so much. Cargotecture is pushing the limits of design since shipping containers are so easy to modify, stack, and build upon while maximizing space in creative ways. The trend of using shipping containers in construction is being fueled by affordability, sustainability, and artistic sensibility.

1. Pop-up shops, bars or cafes

Humble shipping containers can be completely transformed into trendy pop up restaurants, cafes, and shops.  You can play with the container’s size, shape, and sturdy nature to give it a bold, hip, or cutting-edge look. The top of the container can be used as a patio for customers to sit on and enjoy the view around, making it perfect for outdoor bars and restaurants. You can also open one side of the container to make the space bigger. 

More and more small businesses are turning to shipping containers for their pop up shops. The mobility of containers allows businesses to meet customers where they are, making them ideal for special events or seasonal promotions as the shops can be packed up and re-used elsewhere.

2. Swimming Pool

With its length and depth, the rectangular cargo container is an efficient way to create a swimming pool for your home, hotel, or fitness club. Shipping container swimming pools can also be moved and dropped into place with no digging or hard labor required. Their long and narrow shape makes them great for swimming laps. Features such as ladders, pool heaters, and underwater lights can also be easily installed.

3. Playground

Kids love how shipping containers can be converted into a playground. You can stack shipping containers to create makeshift caves, space stations, and pirate ships. You can even have a container park with slides, swings, and a jungle gym. 

4. Furniture

Modern, industrial furniture painted in bright popping colors can actually be made from shipping container scraps. These upcycled furniture come in a variety of designs and shapes to create high-quality interior finishing. In 2012, the Brazilian shipping container company Contain[It] invited a group of designers to use container scraps to design new objects, and the furniture line included lounge chairs, lamps, vases, modular shelving, and table. 

5. Indoor Gardens

Shipping containers can easily be converted into nurseries or indoor gardens, creating alternative green spaces for those with green thumbs. Containers can be stacked, so you don’t need acres of land to grow the amount of produce you want. Even without the luxury of a sprawling farm, you can grow your own flowers, fruits, and vegetables. 

6. Unique Homes

What’s it like to live in a steel box? With easy mobility and a modular design, the shells and interiors of shipping containers can be transformed into functional and stylish living spaces. Designers and architects love the challenge of making contemporary industrial designs from rectangular cargo containers and turning them into energy-efficient, durable housing. Several modules can be connected to form entire residential buildings. Even non-profit organizations have built apartment buildings from shipping containers, to serve as homes for the elderly and the homeless.

7. Schools and Student Housing

Lack of space remains a major problem, especially with student populations growing at an increasingly rapid rate. Using reprocessed cargo containers as classrooms is an affordable option that provides teachers with an interesting space. Containers also make great student housing facilities that are durable and easy to maintain. They are easily built and can be stacked into multiple levels.

8. Art Studios

Nothing can be more artsy than a refurbished shipping container that displays creativity both inside and out. Shipping containers that have been transformed into brilliant art galleries and studios are popping up in many places around the world. The modern and artful vibe certainly attract audiences to check out the displays on the interior and exterior. 

9. Medical Facilities

Turning shipping containers into portable clinics with state-of-the-art facilities is contemporary engineering at its finest. Movable shipping containers that are fitted with medical equipment are useful, especially in developing countries highly in need of affordable medical care. 

10. Hotels

Cargo containers serve as building blocks for hotel rooms and facilities. They are stacked to create multiple levels, and owners are able to add key lifestyle factors like lighting, plumbing, and electricity. They can also be used as front and center designs of hotel properties to attract tourists.

Final Thoughts 

From global trade to fully functional and creative spaces, shipping containers have evolved to become innovative, out-of-the-box alternatives to traditional building materials. Not only do they allow you to effectively cut costs, but you’ll also get the benefits of durable, flexible, and eco-friendly structures and spaces that can be expanded in a multitude of ways. 

Any of these groundbreaking ideas pique your interest? Take that leap and use shipping containers for your next building project. Check out BSL containers to get the best deals in finding high-end shipping containers for your construction needs.