Container architecture

Intermodal shipping containers revolutionised freight transportation, as they could be used on ships, railways and roads. Increasingly, they’re also being used in housing, once their travelling days are over. Verity Rogers takes a look at some of the creative uses they’ve been put to

Vissershok Container Classroom

Visserhok Container Classroom
Image courtesy of Tsai Design Studio

The Vissershok Container Classroom is located in the rural Durbanville wine valley in South Africa. The architects, Tsai Design Studio, used a 12-metre container to create a classroom for 25 five to six year olds, many from the nearby Du Noon Township. The project had a very limited budget, and a shipping container provided a good solution, though they had to make the most of a small space. The container serves as a classroom in the morning, and a library for the whole school in the afternoons. A large roof shelters the container from direct sunlight, and the gap reduces heat gain; the windows along the sides also create cross ventilation to keep the container cooler inside. To maximise the space, a stepped area was included as seating for lunchtimes and school assemblies. A ‘green wall’ was created to act as a ‘vertical vegetable garden’ with the hope that it can shelter the play area from prevailing southeast winds. The project won the silver Loerie Award in the architecture category in 2013.

New Jerusalem Children’s Home

New Jerusalem Children's Home
Images courtesy of Safintra

The New Jerusalem Children’s home in Midrand, northern Johannesberg, South Africa, was completed in 2011 by 4D and A architects. The aim was to create a building where care could be provided to orphaned, abused and vulnerable HIV-positive children. The two-storey building is made from 28 shipping containers, and was designed to house 12 boys on the ground floor and 12 girls on the second storey, as well as two ‘house mothers’. The bedrooms vary in size from sleeping two to four children. The cut-out windows, framing and painting, as well as the interiors of the rooms were completed offsite to make the project’s completion swift and efficient. Containers were transported to the site a few at a time on a truck and then a crane put them in place. The roof garden provides a thermal mass for additional insulation as part of the emphasis to make the project as ‘green’ as possible. The flooring for the building is made of both original container timber and reused carpet tiles. It is also fitted with water-saving showers and a domestic effluence system making used water suitable for irrigation.

Barneveld Noord



The Barneveld Noord train station in the Netherlands was created as a temporary structure, which meant shipping containers were the perfect basis for the project. It was designed by Pieter Bannenberg, Walter van Dijk and Kamiel Klasse from Dutch company NL Architects, alongside project architect, Gerbrand van Oostveen. The aim was to make waiting for a train a more comfortable experience for passengers. The architects ‘suspended’ three shipping containers in the air; one contains installations; another, storage; and the third is open at the bottom to create headroom for the waiting area, making the space twice as high. A fourth, longer, container has been turned upwards to create a clock tower for the building, which contains a toilet, and is topped by a glass roof and a gilded chicken weather vane, as the station is located on the ‘Chicken Line’. The station was one of 20 across the country to get upgraded as part of the ‘Prettig Wachten’, or ‘Pleasant Waiting’, campaign by Dutch national railway service Pro Rail.

Nomad Living: Vale da Vila

Vale de Vila

Vale da Vila is part of Studio Arte architects’ ‘mobile living concept’. The idea behind the project is to provide structures from shipping containers that can be used for a number of different purposes, including a start-up for young home owners, a holiday home, a home office, a pop-up shop or a hotel room. Vale da Vila saw 40-foot long cube shipping containers used to create the prototype for the concept. Completed in 2012, the project took just three months to fulfill. The finished building includes a bathroom, toilet, a kitchenette, and folding beds. No cooling or heating is needed because of insulation in the walls and roof ventilation, making the container building more environmentally friendly. The foundation was made from pre-fabricated concrete blocs from a garden centre, and it uses an
eco-system for its septic tank. According to Studio Arte, nomad tribes who ‘embrace their nomadic lifestyle, without almost any kind of luxury’, inspired the concept. The architects consider the Nomad Living design to be a re-adjustment of nomadism into a sustainable, economic and ecological architecture.

Container Guest House

Located in Texas, this guest house constructed from a shipping container was designed by Poteet Architects and completed in 2010. The large steel and glass door and end window were intended by the designers to ‘open the interior to the surrounding landscape’, letting in natural light. Sustainability was key to the design: a planted roof on the container’s roof aims to provide shade and air flow to prevent overheating, and a wire mesh panel along the back of the container should eventually be covered in evergreen vines that will screen the sunlight. The interior is insulated with spray foam and then lined with bamboo plywood. Water from the sink and shower is also captured for roof irrigation, and there is also a composting toilet. On top of the other sustainable aspects, the whole container is ‘floating’ on a foundation of recycled telephone poles, and its decking is made out of recycled plastic bottles. The final ‘green’ touch to the design is the exterior light fixtures that use blades from a tractor disc plow.

This article was taken from Issue 78


Boxpark is a pop-up shopping mall built alongside the over-ground railway line at Shoreditch High Street station in London. The project was completed in 2011 and will remain for five years. It was created by Brands Incorporated CEO Roger Wade and designed by Waugh Thistleton Architects in collaboration with developers Hammerson and Ballymore. It used 60 steel shipping containers, stacked to create two levels. There are a number of retail shops on the ground floor, their size ranging between one and three containers, and the first floor houses bars and restaurants. Businesses were allowed to lease the retail units for a period of either one or five years, which was intended to appeal to independent and smaller brands. Each standard container measures 12 by 2.5 by 2.5 metres, with independent architects and designers creating the interiors of each unit. The two levels are connected by a steel staircase and on the first floor wooden flooring was laid to provide circulation and outdoor seating areas for the cafés and restaurants. The architects anticipate that when the semi-permanent pop-up mall is taken down around 2016 (probably to make room for a ‘high-density’ office block), the boxes can be recycled again – as retail units or perhaps even to be used for their original purpose as shipping containers!