Photo: London’s Container City – Urban Space Management)

With so much interest in sustainability and low-cost housing today, there has been a resurgence of interest in, and a plethora of designs for pre-fabricated and shipping container housing.
I’ve been looking at a shipping container home myself as I’m keen to have an out-of-town property, possibly in the Hunter Valley, and a shipping container would be an ideal and very economical solution as well as being very different from the type of houses I’ve built in the past.
My creative juices are flowing!
Modern shipping containers are built to withstand extreme conditions and so are ideally suited for habitation. While the use of shipping containers for temporary shelters have been at the margin of society for years, architects and those interested in sustainable housing are returning to the use of these strong and inexpensive structures as cheap building blocks.
Shipping containers can be easily converted into simple or complex structures – even “high rise”! Their internal spaces can be easily modified and fitted out with all the mod cons required for modern living at a fraction of the cost of building a new house.
If you are looking for a temporary shelter while you build a permanent home or are looking for an easy and cheap to construct holiday home on a rural property, or even looking to build a permanent home, the possibilities with shipping container architecture makes them not only green but also cutting edge.

Modified containers are almost indestructible and they are also resistent to mould, fire, termites and extreme weather conditions. It is important when buying a shipping container to live in that you check to see what was previously transported in it and take any steps to de-contaminate if used for chemicals or other toxic materials before you convert the space.

Successful developments using shipping containers include London’s Container City. Conceived by Urban Space Management, the City sprang up in London’s Docklands in 2001. It took just five months to complete the original 12 work studios, at a height of three stories. Shortly after that a fourth floor of studios and living apartments was added.

Container City was designed to be low cost, as well as environmentally friendly and recycled materials made up 80% of building supplies. Architect Nicholas Lacey and partners and engineer Buro Happold used component pieces to build up adaptable living and work spaces.
Container City I was a such success that in in 2002, Urban Space Management added an addition, dubbed Container City II. Reaching five stories high, Container City II is connected to its earlier iteration via walkways. It also boasts an elevator and full disabled access, as well as 22 studios.

Photo: Keetwonen Complex, Amsterdam
Another project billed as the largest “container city in the world” is Amsterdam’s Keetwonen complex. This project houses 1,000 students who are very happy to be able to live in the city in what is a very tight real esate market. The project was designed by Tempo Housing in 2006 and is said to be a huge success with all units well insulated, very quiet and comfortable with a bedroom, kitchen, study area with large windows and a balcony. The complex even has central heating and a dedicated bike path.

Another container home designed for on- or off-grid living is the Ecopod. Made from a shipping container, an electric winch is used to raise and lower the heavy deck door (power is supplied by a solar panel). The floor is made from recycled car tires, and the walls have birch paneling over closed-cell soya foam insulation. The glass is double glazed to slow heat transfer.

Photo: The Eco Pod

The Port-a-Bach system from New Zealand’s Atelier Workshop is another great example of a small vacation home. Costing around $55,000, Port-a-Bach sleeps two adults and two children comfortably, in a dwelling that folds up into a fully enclosed steel shell. It comes with large internal storage cupboards and shelves; a stainless steel kitchen; bathroom with shower, sink and composting toilet; bunk beds and dressing room. Fabric screens allow you to shape internal space, as well as shelter the outdoor deck area. Bach (pronounced Batch) is Kiwi slang for “Bachelor Pad,” and refers to the many small cabins that dot the country.

Photo: The Port-a-Bach
There are many more examples of innovative shipping container housing and if you are looking to construct one yourself you can certainly let your imagination run wild. Whether you take up the challenge yourself or commission an architect or designer to help you, take your time, do your research and most of all, have fun!