I grew up surrounded by containers (my dad's company designed the Kalkinesque warehouse shown above for Northern Canada in the '70s) 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 proved me wrong. Let's count the ways.

The single-container units

porta Bach shipping container home

Photo: atelier


A bach is the name given in New Zealand to structures akin to small, often very modest holiday homes or beach houses. They are an iconic part of New Zealand history and culture. Cecile Bonnifait and William Giesen of atelier workshop have built a bach out of a box, a 20-foot shipping container. This isn't easy to do — they're narrow inside. They pulled it off by having one side of the container fold down to open it up to the outdoors. Every inch of it is used cleverly — even the container doors become support for a bed.

All Terrain Cabin shipping container home

Photo: barkbark.ca

All Terrain Cabin
Take an easy-to handle 20-foot ISO container frame. Outfit it with folding walls and the best in Canadian design. According to BARK design collective: "The result is as smart as it is efficient, suitable for a family of four and a pet to live off the grid in comfort and contemporary style. It travels by train, truck, ship, airplane or helicopter, folded up and indistinguishable from any ordinary shipping container. Once it arrives, it unfolds rapidly to 480 square feet of self-contained, sophisticated living space with all the comforts of home."


Photo: ecopods.ca


Dwight Doerkson has developed "an affordable eco friendly building that’s transportable and doesn’t need to be hooked up to the grid" out of shipping containers. He cuts out an entire wall and hinges it, so when you want to leave your ecopod you simply flip a switch and a solar-powered winch pulls up the deck and closes the box.

Future shack

Photo: Sean Godsell Architects

Future Shack

Aussie architect Sean Godsell's small masterpiece is a refugee housing unit made from a ready-made, reused shipping container. Super-efficient and simple, but made to last and protect, the unit uses a bare minimum of industry materials. Since it's entirely self-contained, a number of units can be shipped together to their destination of need. It's solar powered, too.

Push button house

Photo: Adam Kalkin

Push-Button House

The Push Button House starts as a shipping container until a button is pushed, at which point motorized walls start to unfold, and it turns into a furnished house. It's not fully functioning, given that there is no roof or walls or plumbing, but it is a good conversation piece.

Now for the multi-container designs

R4 shipping container house

Photo: archello

R4 House

The R4House prototype consists of two bioclimatic homes made from materials that close the loop. The energy consumption of both is zero because of its bioclimatic design, the solar panels and the geothermal energy source. The waste production during construction is also zero. Both homes are modular and built from six recycled shipping containers.

habode shipping container home

Photo: Habode


The Habode is not strictly speaking a container home, but is built to be handled like a container and then busts out of the dimensional limitations of the traditional steel box.

Ross Stevens house New Zealand

Photo: Petraalsback/Flickr

Ross Stevens House

This wall of containers built against a hill in Wellington, New Zealand, was designed by Ross Stevens. It uses the spaces between the containers and the hill to expand its living space beyond that limiting interior dimensions of a standard ISO box.

Phooey Fun House

Photo: Phooey Architects

Phooey Fun House

Now, even more recycled fun can be had in Melbourne-based Phooey Architects’ shipping container playground. It revamps four shipping containers and other reclaimed materials into an attractive yet functional activity center, designed to provide kids living in South Melbourne’s public housing with safe spaces to dance, play and create art.

Multifamily high-density container projects

Travelodge pop-up hotel

Photo: Travelodge

Pop-up hotel

Travelodge is looking seriously at prefab hotels and has built its first in the west London district of Uxbridge.

Exceptional Green Living on Rosa Parks, a 20-unit multifamily housing project composed of 93 retired shipping containers

Photo: Steven Flum

Container Condo

The construction on Exceptional Green Living on Rosa Parks, a 20-unit multifamily housing project composed of 93 retired shipping containers, will commence early next year in midtown Detroit.

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