Examples

Take a look at some of these clever and creative uses businesses around the world have found for storage container construction – they might give you some inspiration for your own project.

QED & Brighton Housing Trust

Concept
Brighton Housing Trust needed a way to create affordable new accommodation for the city’s homeless – and they needed the residences to be created in months rather than years. In partnership with developer QED, the trust in December 2013 opened the doors on 36 shipping containers converted into temporary studio homes. The project will give homeless people a temporary but secure place to live while they look for employment.

Build
The project comprises 36 containers stacked in six rows of six, with an external staircase and balconies providing access to the upper floors. The containers make use of insulated plasterboard walls and have been retrofitted with kitchens and bathrooms, providing all the facilities needed to live. All this was erected in the space of six months on a spare plot of land in Brighton and Hove after planning permission was granted for five years.

Business sense
According to Andy Winter, chief executive of Brighton Housing Trust, converted containers could offer temporary accommodation for the homeless in cities the world over. The relatively small footprint-to-resident ratio of the structure means it makes efficient use of local land, meaning this could be a particularly good solution in large cities where planning laws are stringent and available land is in short supply.

Nomadic Museum

Concept
The Nomadic Museum was conceived as a temporary structure to house Ashes and Snow, an exhibition of photography by Canadian film-maker Gregory Colbert. As its name suggests, this museum doesn’t stand still: instead it travels all over the world, and as such needs to be made of materials that can be easily assembled and disassembled as needed.

Build
The original Nomadic Museum was built on pier 54 of New York City in 2005, designed by architect Shigeru Ban and engineers Buro Happold. Spanning an area 67ft wide and 672ft long, it used stacked and secured shipping containers to create a rigid columnar steel structure, with architectural membrane filling the gaps between containers.

Business sense
The design of the Nomadic Museum wasn’t just a clever use of materials, but also an inspired way to promote the ethos of the museum. The structure evolves as it travels, so while its incarnation at the New York dockyards used shipping containers, it takes on new materials at every destination. For instance, its most recent home in Mexico City was the largest bamboo structure ever created, and incorporated water channels to evoke the city’s Aztec heritage.

Travelodge Uxbridge

Concept
Another home-grown example of smart architecture in action, Travelodge Uxbridge got in on the trend way back in 2008 – in fact, it was Europe’s first hotel made from storage containers. Two different sizes of container were used in the construction of the 120-room hotel, creating a mixture of double rooms and family rooms.

Build
Travelodge Uxbridge is made from 86 high-strength steel containers, which were constructed and retrofitted into hotel rooms in China. They were then brought to the UK by boat, where they were assembled – in the company’s words – “like giant Lego blocks” on-site. The modular build technique was pioneered by Verbus Systems, a joint venture between engineers Buro Happold and constructor George & Harding.

Business sense
Travelodge praised the “affordability and efficiency gains” of this style of construction, also noting that placing together all 86 containers took just 20 days. It is unlikely Travelodge would have been able to create a hotel on this site without using the technique, due to its location on a busy road where vehicle access is limited. The project proved so successful that the company opened the world’s largest storage container hotel at Heathrow in 2009.

Wahaca South Bank

Concept
Wahaca is a popular London-based restaurant with branches across the city, serving Mexican street food in a number of fascinating buildings. One of the most experimental restaurants is located in London’s trendy South Bank area, set in eight storage containers and marketed as the “restaurant space that challenges [Wahaca] to be innovative”. It’s here that new specials are trialled, allowing customers to be the first to try new dishes before they’re released across the city – all while enjoying a riverside view.

Build
The restaurant’s eight recycled containers are arranged on two levels, with the river-facing side of each removed and replaced with glass to create a panoramic view over the city skyline. It’s branded in a similarly makeshift style, with street art curator Tristan Manco taking charge of the décor by bringing in graffiti artists and lighting the restaurant with sheets of fairy lights hanging from every inch of ceiling space. As Mark Selby says in Wahaca’s short video documentary, the restaurant has “no gas and very little electricity”, and took about four months to build.

Business sense
The shipping container works as an impressive branding tool as well as a relatively low-energy way to run a restaurant, allowing the founders to open up discussion around experimentation and the do-it-yourself attitude often associated with street food.

Boxpark

Concept
Retailers seeking inspiration could learn a lot from Boxpark, a pop-up mall in East London housing some of the biggest names in fashion – all situated inside a labyrinth of shipping containers. As well as clothing and lifestyle brands, visitors can find cafés, restaurants and even galleries – and with local businesses running pop-up shops alongside international stores, the emphasis is clearly on innovation and style, making the architecture a feature in its own right.

Build
Boxpark is extremely temporary in design – the owners only had a five-year lease on the land when it opened in 2011 – so the entire structure is made up of over 60 containers. The idea was to keep everything low-cost and, more importantly, low-risk, so that small business owners could feel confident using the space without fear of being tied town to expensive overheads.

Business sense
When seeking permanent outlets, founder Roger Wade focused on smaller businesses, which he knew would benefit more from a structure which promised smaller fees than those of a more traditional bricks-and-mortar location. The novelty of the shipping containers and the idea that not only are many of the outlets temporary, but in fact the whole mall could easily be a thing of the past, is what attracts customer to this end of town – proving that a shipping container can easily become a selling point.

Boxpark

Concept
Google understandably has a lot of data to store, and servers are costly – not just in terms of hardware and running costs, but also in finding somewhere to keep them. Shipping containers are relatively cheap and easy storage options, allowing the energy to be focused on the servers themselves, which use an estimated 50-104 megawatts of electricity and cost around $600 million per data centre.

Build
The first container-based Google Data Centre comprised 45 containers housing over 45,000 servers. Included in the structure are cooling towers, power distribution centres and even a generator farm – all integrated impressively into the shipping container structure. This is an extremely complex example of how containers can be used, and shows just how versatile this method of building can be – Google can always add extra containers should their server requirements change. You can view a tour of the facility here.

Business sense
For Google, the shipping container was simply the most practical, although it did hit a few bumps in the road – originally started in 2005, the project was actually discontinued in 2007, although the company still pushed through the patents it had developed in researching such a mammoth construction. In 2009 they announced that the first data centre was in fact still under construction; by 2014 there were 12 in operation.