Shipping container architecture
October 5, 2007 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Shipping container architecture. A comprehensive repository of information, links, photos, and videos of shipping containers used as buildings or parts of buildings. More. Even more.
posted by dersins (24 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
(Try not to let the fact that the site's creator appears to be a lunatic 9/11 conspiracy theorist interfere with your enjoyment of what is otherwise a great resource...)
posted by dersins at 11:56 AM on October 5, 2007

I have a friend who is an architect that would love to build a home out of shipping containers. He has a very limited budget and is looking for some land, but I think there are a lot of opportunities to make cool homes out of these for affordable prices.
posted by bove at 12:12 PM on October 5, 2007

A place called The Moderine just opened a couple of blocks from where I work, I only noticed it because it wasn't there one week and was the next.

Also, it's bright orange, and made out of three shipping containers. And the lot around it has a half dozen giant (and also bright orange) question mark sculptures on poles distributed randomly around the building.

I'm still not entirely sure what it is.

But I do love the idea of shipping-containers as building materials.
posted by quin at 12:19 PM on October 5, 2007

Cool stuff. Related previously on Mefi.

What I've been wanting to find ever since I saw it are images from a conference in maybe 1980? in Seattle? Vancouver? based on a utopian vision (dystopian, in retrospect) of affordable housing via enormous structures of prefab stackable units that looked like shipping containers. The conference may have been called Habitat? Anyone heard of that? Anyway, it shares some thinking with this same vein of architecture, though writ so large it failed miserably (eg, but that's another story). Shipping container architecture is fun.
posted by salvia at 12:37 PM on October 5, 2007

I like the idea of using seatrains* as the basis for a structure, but I wonder how cost-effective it really is. They aren't especially waterproof or especially well-insulated, so they'd make lousy winter dwellings without drastic modifications. Same for summer weather - those things are consistently 10 to 20 degrees hotter inside than outside.

So. First you'd have to buy one, then lay a foundation, make sure it's habitable from a Health and Human Services standpoint, i.e. sewer, water, gas & electricity, then modify it so that it doesn't kill you when the weather gets above or below 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once those problems are taken into account I'm sure the resulting structure is neat-o, but probably not as cheap as most people seem to assume.

*all the construction workers I used to deliver materials to called shipping containers "seatrains," presumably in reference to the train-line that popularized their use.
posted by lekvar at 12:40 PM on October 5, 2007

Oh, also previously. (The original link is now subscriber-only, but the via BldgBlog works.)
posted by salvia at 12:42 PM on October 5, 2007

Cool idea. Hot boxes.

Salvia, do you mean Moishe Safdie's Habitat?
posted by DenOfSizer at 12:45 PM on October 5, 2007

You can buy a standard 40 x 8 x 8 foot used shipping container for about $2500 around here, delivered. That is about $8 per square foot for a structure that is very strong, is waterproof if in good repair, and comes with its own floor and foundation. I have seen quite a few of them made into offices and control rooms in industry.

About the cheapest form of standard construction I know of is the quonset hut; kits for these seem to go for around $10 per square foot. With no foundation. And they aren't nearly as strong as shipping containers. (OTOH you can get quonset huts wider than 8 feet, which is the major limitation of container architecture.)

Containers are not quite strong enough to be buried, but they can be stacked to ridiculous heights. They are designed to be supported at their corners, and that's loaded with up to 50,000 lb of cargo. Tie one down well enough and it will laugh at an F5 tornado.

The main problem is that they aren't insulated, and if you cut too many holes in the sides their integrity is seriously compromised. This makes it very impractical to create spaces wider than 8 feet unless you plan to do some serious welding.
posted by localroger at 12:50 PM on October 5, 2007

Oooh, maybe! Apparently I got every relevant fact wrong, and I coulda sworn it was about a conference, but there is modular architecture near a river, with the word habitat and a year. That's cool -- thanks! Here's a website with more photos.
posted by salvia at 12:55 PM on October 5, 2007

There was a piece here last year about the Shipyard, which is mentioned in the first link of this post. I was thinking about it yesterday when I walked by an apparently abandoned boxcar. Could you use old boxcars for the same purposes?

There's a company here in VT that makes power generating systems that are packed in shipping containers and go to remote places.
posted by MtDewd at 12:57 PM on October 5, 2007

I see and agree with all that, but what happens when you tell the Katrina homeless "well, you get to live in an old boxcar?" We need some re-branding of the container on the HGTV network, you know?
posted by DenOfSizer at 1:00 PM on October 5, 2007

(That is to say, this year)
posted by MtDewd at 1:01 PM on October 5, 2007

Future House Now refers to these as "Sea Containers" and has some neat links.
posted by kimota at 1:13 PM on October 5, 2007

Just goes to prove, you can take the hobo out of the shipping container...
posted by mazola at 1:35 PM on October 5, 2007

Shipping containers != boxcars.

Boxcars are a totally different animal than shipping containers. Except for the fact that they both hold stuff and are rectangular, they're not even direct evolutionary ancestors.

Boxcars evolved from pretty flimsy wood things; the 'box' isn't structural or load bearing, because they're built on a heavy steel undercarriage and frame. The whole concept is different: they're just flatcars with walls and roofs.

Also, I think that Wikipedia link on "seatrains" leaves a lot to be desired. While they had the beginnings of container shipping down (as did a lot of other companies running rail-ferries), the first successful attempt at transporting containers intermodally, and the accepted beginning of the modern shipping era (instead of doing break-bulk) was Malcom McLean's SeaLand. (Neither of those articles are great, but they're a little better.) He was originally a trucking guy, and tried for a while to figure out a way to take the boxes from the back of semi-trailers and put them on ships (originally, with the wheels/trailers attached, later, just as the box), but they weren't sturdy enough ... hence the corrugated-steel shipping container we now know and love. It's also why you get "domestic size" cargo containers in the U.S. which aren't the same as the "ISO size" containers used in international shipping: a domestic box might be 48 feet, because that's a common trailer size, but the ISO standardized on 20, 40 and 45 feet even. (Big PITA.)

Here's a good chart of the major flavors of ISO cargo containers. The "reefer" ones are insulated and have diesel-powered A/C units on them. I have no idea what those go for, but if I was going to use one architecturally, or even for storage, that's what I'd try to get. Seems like it would be easier than trying to insulate a dry box.

Additional reading if this sort of thing interests you.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:53 PM on October 5, 2007

Habitat however did not fail miserably a la Pruitt-Igoe. The houses there are hugely sought after.
posted by Flashman at 3:04 PM on October 5, 2007

Interesting, Flashman, and sorry if my comment above (before I knew it was a specific project) implied otherwise. I'm remembering that on the poster I saw (? in my dreams?) there was some image similar to Habitat 67 with some generic utopian text about affordable housing for everyone via modernist structures of prefab modular pieces that could be stacked as high as needed or something, which was the idea that seemed a bit alarming in retrospect. (Hmmm... there was a UN Habitat conference in Vancouver in 76, maybe it had something to do with that? Maybe there were five things presented in some class and I mixed them all together?)
posted by salvia at 4:47 PM on October 5, 2007

To follow up to on Kadi2048, some more follow up reading.

And it really should interest you. A lot. The degree to which the box made the second half of the twentieth century what it was can hardly be overstated. Not only does it make the flow of super cheap crap goods from Asia economically feasible, it has changed the very nature of port cities themselves. Fifty years ago, Manhattan's west side piers were covered in stevedores and breakbulk freight. Goodbye, sailor. Containers changed all that, in NYC and elsewhere, and the effects continue to ripple outwards.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:00 PM on October 5, 2007

@Indigo: That book looks great; I think I might have a Christmas present to myself there ... thanks for pointing that out.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:25 PM on October 5, 2007

The spent fuel tanks from the space shuttle could be used to create a space station.
posted by Sailormom at 9:56 PM on October 5, 2007

@Kadin2048: I remember reading the first chapter of that book online, quite fascinating. Also: A video interview with the author on the same topic.
posted by stumbling at 1:58 AM on October 6, 2007

Since most apartments (325 to 350 sq feet) in the neighborhood I live in (Hell's Kitchen, NYC) are about the size and dimensions of a shipping container, I can totally see these being recycled in lots of interesting ways. Cool post.
posted by nickyskye at 8:49 AM on October 6, 2007

Stumbling, thank you for the interview. Never would have thought to look for it, now I have to watch.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:37 AM on October 6, 2007

I just started watching The Wire season two on DVD, and it seems like a must-see for any shipping container enthusiast.
posted by erikgrande at 12:49 PM on October 6, 2007

« Older Hostile takeover at BME?   |   What makes "T" part of "GLBT"? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments