Storage containers have a number of benefits as building materials, as detailed here:
Availability and cost
Storage containers are widely available – shipping lines release millions of them every year. As they are designed to be transported and already conform to standard shipping sizes, they can easily be delivered to the relevant construction site by ship, truck or rail. Part of the reason for storage containers’ availability is the drop-off in exports in the Western world over recent years; this has led to hundreds of thousands of unused containers building up in docks and depots. As their owners are understandably keen to get rid of them, second-hand containers can often be sourced at extremely low prices.
Sustainability is often placed at the heart of storage container construction techniques. As the containers themselves are naturally recycled and repurposed items, this tends to encourage architects and designers to source any other materials required sustainably as well.
While it is true that the energy required in the storage container conversion process can be considerable, it is usually significantly less than traditional building techniques, and by comparison uses a fraction of the natural resources.
Storage containers are built to withstand harsh weathers and conditions, and to protect the cargo within when they’re being transported around the world. They are made of weathering steel, a special group of steel alloys which, due to their chemical composition, resist atmospheric corrosion and instead form a protective, rust-like layer when subjected to weather. The Angel of the North in Gateshead, the Barclays Center in New York and Broadcasting Tower in Leeds are a few well-known examples of buildings constructed from weathering steel.
Storage containers usually have hardwood floors, which are treated to be water-resistant, installed to ensure that the floor is sturdy and not easily damaged by heavy objects in transit. This makes them ideal for conversion: as well as being tough and secure, the floor can be easily modified to fit the addition of power points, work units and stud walls.
Customisability and artistic value
The modular nature of storage containers means they can be customised and combined in an endless variety of ways. Windows and doors can easily be cut into the metal where needed, and it’s even straightforward to remove entire walls and replace them with sliding glass doors or fronts, as long as lintels are fitted for support. This customisability also makes it easier for architects to modify their designs, even while a project is ongoing.
The surfaces of storage containers can be painted and decorated in eye-catching ways, making them attractive for retail and food businesses that are looking to stand out on the street. Indeed, the visual impact of storage containers means they are often used by artists too, as studios, galleries and even as art installations themselves: in 2011, a creative group in Lisbon used them to stage a series of performances.