18 Unusual Uses for Shipping Containers

18 uses shipping containers

 

Taking an object designed for one purpose and modifying it to create something totally different is a major trend. We hear a lot about repurposing these days, and we are repurposing everything from small craft items to large industrial buildings. Warehouse conversion, for example, has become a booming industry that breathes new life into relics from the past. On the smaller end of the scale, even things like bottle caps can be repurposed to make tiny tea lights.

Used to quickly and efficiently transport cargo from ship to land, shipping containers have become the centerpieces of some interesting and unique endeavors. Inexpensive and easy to obtain, these simple metal containers are being used in extraordinary ways. From inexpensive homes to trendy restaurants and retail establishments, people around the world have found countless ways to use these sturdy boxes. Here are a few of our favorites.

Homes

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One of the most unique trends in shipping container repurposing is the use of them to create housing. The containers are structurally sound, affordable and ideal for those who are looking to decrease their environmental impact or live off-the-grid. Since they’re easily portable, they can be set up just about anywhere, and they can be used to create everything from small spaces inspired by the “tiny homes” movement to large apartment complexes capable of providing safe housing for hundreds of people.

Tempohousing is a Netherlands-based company that specializes in building unique residences using shipping containers. They created the world’s first container ship housing for students to solve a housing shortage in Amsterdam as well as a homeless shelter in Brighton, UK.

shipping container homes concept

Schools

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In many underprivileged parts of our world, building schools is impossible due to prohibitive costs. Because shipping containers are affordable and can easily be modified to include windows, doors, air conditioning and heating systems, they provide a perfect solution to providing education in areas where building a traditional school is out of reach.

These schools are often powered using renewable energy resources. This makes it possible for them to offer the same quality of education that can be found in other parts of the world at a fraction of the cost.

Converted shipping containers are also being used in situations where existing schools need to add more classrooms while causing minimal disruption to the surroundings. Short installation times mean that additional space can be added over school holidays, resulting in less disruption for students and teachers as well.

Sheds

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The humble shipping container is the perfect spot to store gardening tools, lawn mowers, trimmers and other outdoor equipment. They are secure and provide a high degree of protection from the elements. While you can use a shipping container as-is when you are in need of a storage shed, you could also do a bit of customization to turn it into a garden room or just make it a bit more aesthetically pleasing.

Unlike wood sheds, a shipping container shed will never mold or rot. It’s more secure than a wooden structure as well, which is important when storing valuable lawn and garden equipment.

the humble shipping container quote

Swimming Pools

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If you’ve always wanted your very own backyard swimming pool but you don’t want to go through all the effort of setting up a traditional pool, a shipping container pool could be the perfect solution. There’s no need for digging since the container is simply dropped in place. There are even companies that specialize in outfitting old shipping containers with liners, filters, heaters, ladders and even underwater lights to ensure that your shipping container swimming pool is ready to go as soon as it arrives at your home.

Pop-Up Cafes, Shops and Restaurants

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The sturdy nature, shape and size of shipping containers make them ideal for converting into unique pop-up cafes, shops and restaurants. They’re easy to transport, set up and tear down, so they are perfect for temporary applications. They even work well as pop-up art galleries, bars and even theaters.

Thinking about building something a bit more permanent? Shipping containers work for that, too. By combining multiple containers, it is possible to create larger restaurants and retail establishments that are permanent structures.

complex constructed with shipping containers

Emergency Medical Facilities

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When disaster strikes, having portable medical facilities is vital. Repurposed shipping containers containing a range of emergency medical supplies are becoming increasingly common in emergency preparedness plans around the world, and for good reason. Modern engineering makes it easy and efficient to convert these large steel boxes into safe, sanitary medical facilities that can be transported to the scene of a disaster at a moment’s notice.

First used to save lives in Haiti, small clinics made from shipping containers and powered by solar energy are now being used in disaster recovery around the world. They provide space for medical treatment and can be modified to even include things like surgical suites, dental rooms or radiology suites.

Underground Shelters

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An uncertain political climate and increasingly frequent natural disasters have led many people to consider constructing underground shelters on their property. Intended to provide protection in the event of political upheaval, natural disasters and other crises, underground bunkers and shelters are seen by some as must-haves in the event of troubles above ground.

With proper preparation, shipping containers provide an ideal building block for this sort of project. While the containers are sturdy, though, it’s important to consult with a structural engineer before purchasing one for the purpose of burying it under the ground and turning it into a bunker. Creating an underground shelter using shipping containers may be a bit easier than building one from scratch but be sure to do your homework prior to starting the project.

loading cargo onto freight ship

Growing Spaces

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The narrow design of a shipping container makes it an ideal indoor garden, nursery or grow room. Companies like Growtainer and Crop Box recycle old shipping containers to create unique growing spaces for everything imaginable. Since containers can be stacked, it’s possible to create large indoor farms without a lot of space. With the right lights, heating system, humidity controls and insulation, these enclosed growing spaces can produce crops year-round regardless of your climate.

Workshops and Offices

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A single intermodal shipping container can easily be converted to create the perfect home office or workshop while multiples can be stacked and connected to create efficient and spacious office buildings. While many homes and cities face space constraints that make it difficult for people to find spaces to work, repurposed shipping containers can be used to create much-needed workspaces. Because they are structurally solid and easy to secure, they work well for storing expensive tools, equipment, computers and other supplies.

Portable Toilets

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In many areas, traditional outhouses are being replaced with portable toilets made from old shipping containers. Businesses, organizations and event coordinators in need of ways to maintain sanitary conditions on-site turn to portable toilets made from old containers because they are larger, easier to keep clean and provide more privacy. They also offer more mobility for users, and they are easy to transport from one place to another.

These portable toilets are also being used to provide sanitary facilities in developing nations where modern plumbing fixtures may not be present. In these parts of the world, they help improve safety and prevent the spread of potentially deadly diseases.

Art Studios and Galleries

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A lot of creativity goes into turning the humble shipping container into something entirely new and, in many ways, they are works of art in themselves. It only makes sense, then, that they are frequently used to house creative projects. Art studios made from old shipping containers provide unique spaces for artists to work, and galleries made from these metal boxes provide the perfect venues to showcase their masterpieces.

humble shipping container quote

Whether you paint, do pottery, are a metal worker or practice just about any other type of art, a shipping container can be converted to house everything you need. It’s even easy to add windows to let natural light in while you are working or showing off your latest creations.

Darkrooms

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While most people have made the switch to digital photography, there are still many artists who prefer traditional film. With fewer and fewer places offering film developing services, having your own darkroom is becoming a must. Of course, having your own darkroom also grants you more creative control than sending your film off to be developed by someone else.

Shipping containers are solid and seal tightly, making them perfect for use as darkrooms. Their relatively small size makes it easy to control the temperature within, and you can achieve complete darkness inside without any major modifications. They can also be outfitted with special lights and air filtration systems to ensure both the safety of your prints and yourself.

Shopping Malls

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shipping container building

All around the world, shipping containers are also being used to construct unique shopping malls. One example, Revolutsia in Wichita, Kansas, is an “open-air hub of restaurant and retail activity.” High-profile shipping container malls have also been built everywhere from Las Vegas and San Francisco to Seoul, South Korea. They serve as unique ways to house new businesses using recycled materials, and they are becoming increasingly common. Since they are more affordable to set up than traditional shopping centers, they serve as more affordable locations for startups to house their shops and restaurants.

In comparison to traditional malls, shipping container shopping malls are quite unusual. This leads to an immediate increase in foot traffic and locals and out-of-towners alike visit to satisfy their curiosity. The steady stream of people coming to check out the shopping center naturally leads to good business for mall tenants.

Gymnasiums and Athletic Centers

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Building a traditional gymnasium or athletic center is a costly and time-consuming endeavor. Many schools and other organizations around the world have found, though, that converting shipping containers for this purpose is much more efficient and affordable. This process cuts down on both labor and material expenses while still making it possible to create well-equipped facilities.

Playgrounds

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With a little creativity and a child’s imagination, an old shipping container can become just about anything. Through the eyes of a child, it might be a space station, a cave or even a pirate ship sailing on the high seas. Stacking container ships and modifying them to create playgrounds and children’s activity centers is a great way to breathe new life into containers that are no longer useful in the shipping industry. And since these metal containers are so durable, they will stand up to a lot of rough and tumble play from kids of all ages.

stacking container ships quote

Furniture

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Not quite up to the challenge of using an entire shipping container for one project? They’re also being used to create refurbished furniture. Companies are reusing metal from these containers to create everything from lounge chairs to unique lighting fixtures for homes and offices. In addition to breathing new life into old materials, these companies create pieces that come with the story of being made from materials that have traveled the world. How cool is that?

Guest House

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If you lack a spare bedroom but need a place for guests to stay or an area for an aging parent to live, a repurposed shipping container makes an ideal tiny home. Using the container’s frame as a base, adding windows and a door is easy. The small size makes heating and cooling efficient, and you could choose solar power to make the entire structure even more efficient.

Garage

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Whether you need a place to park your car or space you can work on other peoples’ vehicles, a shipping container works well as a garage. You can create a small garage using just one container or connect a few to create a larger space. Since they can be stacked, you can even create enough vertical space to install a lift to make it easier to work under vehicles. Since they are made of metal, they are non-flammable, making them ideal spaces when you are welding, using torches, etc.

stack shipping containers

Conclusion

Old shipping containers are widely available, affordable and easy to obtain. They can be used to create just about anything, and as repurposing becomes increasingly popular, we are likely to see even more uses for these essential elements of the shipping industry.

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