10 Things to Know Before Building With Shipping Containers

Outside their intended purpose of protecting cargo being transported across the globe, shipping containers have long been used as temporary storage solutions, for both commercial and residential purposes. Known for their durability and harsh climate resistant capabilities, this has made them attractive for reuse and sustainable building structures. 


More Than a Trend

In recent years, the shipping container started to gain in popularity, thanks to developments such as Box Park, The Quartyard, The Common Ground (pop-up container mall in Seoul), Wyn-Box, and more. Forward-thinking architects, cities, and developers are re-imagining the shipping containers, all for different reasons. There are shipping container homes and commercial buildings on almost every continent, and the avant-garde trend of sustainable design and building, is poised to stay.


Cheaper in the Longterm

No, building a well designed shipping container structure is not necessarily cheaper than traditional buildings.  You still have to design to code, pull permits, choose your interior finishes, fabricate, and ship the shipping containers to their final destination. They are cheaper in the long-term, because for the most part, you can move them to your next land location - try doing that with traditional structures. The ability to reuse a modular building, greatly reduces the cost for redevelopment.


Up to Code

Check with your city or state to verify building codes surrounding development and construction using shipping containers. This will help you determine if your intended use case will not cause you legal headaches and unnecessary fines. The architects and developers you work with should be adept in these matters, sparing you the leg work. Code for permanent builds versus semi-permanent or temporary uses can be tricky to navigate or just flat-out nonexistent in most cities.



The ISO standardized shipping container size is 8ft x 8.5ft (also available in a taller 9.5ft version), but there are a few length options between 8ft to 40ft. This mass produced standardization, allow container buildings to be a modular delight, because architects can design them to connect and stack, almost like Legos. Stacking containers is not without its challenges, such as waterproofing. Sealing the joints of stacked containers is more than just about keeping out the natural elements, but also stability, which requires the expertise of architects and fabricators already at the forefront of creating container buildings.


Sustainable Building Re-imagined

Environmental conservation was once thought to be a fad for weed smoking tree huggers. However, with the Internet and a flood of data made available by the scientific community, citizen scientists, and people concerned about their natural environment -  many are starting to see the effects of climate change. Change, not of the good kind. Reusing shipping containers for residential and commercial projects is a great way to reduce the use of traditional building materials, which are not movable and have to be demolished each time land has to be developed. Containers are more flexible and therefore can be repurposed for various projects over time.


Retail Common Sense

If you are considering a retail space, pop up shops are a popular way to test your concepts. Much like a roving restaurant - also known as a food truck - containers are a great way to show proof of concept, before committing to a permanent buildout and pouring thousands of dollars into a new business or expansion. 


How Many Containers Do You Need?

Tiny houses and micro units have become quite buzz worthy in recent years. The idea that less is more, decluttering one’s self of “stuff,” and curbing the overly egocentric glut of material possessions, has carved a niche among millennials. You can get really creative and make a tiny house out of a shipping container or a mega-mansion that Robin Leach and MTV Cribs would be proud of. Why limit your imagination? Right?


No Need to Sacrifice Style for Function

Electric cars were definitely not pretty in the beginning, heck, most cars were generally just about function, not style. Until others came along and started thinking differently and re-imagining what the possibilities could be. Same goes for shipping containers. Often you will see very basic fabrication, where there is a simple cut out of doors and windows - and that is where the creativity ends. Entering the sphere of building with shipping containers is already in itself an out of the box approach, so why stop there? Truly consider the finishing interior and exterior trims, and details, to really make it your own.


Great for Branded Activations

You may play host or sponsor for a music, film, art or entertainment event/festival. How effective is your VIP experience? Do they represent your brand as forward thinking and innovative? Shipping containers can be turned into temporary hotels with great amenities for festivals such as Coachella, Burning Man and more. A fully portable and customized branded activation for some of your most deserving customers, while showcasing your brand through the lens of innovation. 

Any Generation

Boomers, Millennials, and Gen Z approach life differently, but basic needs remain the same: food, finance, health, a place to live, and relationships are all paramount. Millennials are making decisions based on trying to avoid replicating the same burdens carried by their parents, which many see as an unfulfilled and unhappy life. Smart developers who are tuned into this belief are presenting millennials (and soon Gen Z) with more affordable options to co-live, co-work, and helping them ditch the traditional model of owning a mortgage for 30 years. Containers provide great options for developers to create shared complexes to all combinations of families, young professionals, entrepreneurs and more. The opportunity to provide economic relief, while fostering innovative live, work, and play options through sustainable and modular container developments, is a case to be made across generations.

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