Shipping Containers to Container Houses

By Modise Tsiu and Sharne Bloem


Container houses are upcycled shipping containers that are transformed into homes through clever and creative architecture. These sustainable buildings reduce the demand for bricks, cement, wood, and other building materials. This significantly lowers the total embodied energy cost of building a house. The container houses are strong and durable structures because containers are inherently strong structures that are built to withstand extreme weather conditions out in the ocean.

Facts About Shipping Containers

Shipping containers invented in 1956 play an important role in today’s global supply chain and have expedited supply chain processes in companies—shipping containers transport about 95% of the world’s cargo. Containers have revolutionized sectors such as logistics, manufacturers, retailers, and distributors. They are mostly used to transport raw materials, ingredients, and finished products from one location to another.


Containers have transformed global trade making it more efficient and safer for the products from being tampered with and damage. Although these structures are so strong, companies lose some of their products because there are about 2 000 to 10 000 containers a year lost at sea due to falling off the ship. The containers that do not get lost can last up to 7-10 years as cargo vessels between countries. Containers are susceptible to rust because of the minor damage when being loaded on the ships combined with the harsh climates. The container journey starts in China, which is the world's biggest recycler of steel and produces 90 percent of shipment containers. Mostly Europe and The United States of America receive the finished containers, and they are immediately sold when they arrive on the shores. After the shipping life cycle of a shipping container, it is sold to innovators and creatives for recycling and upcycling.

Containers as Buildings

These steal intermodal enclosures are diverse and are not only used for transporting goods; over the years, they have also been used for classrooms, offices, emergency medical facilities, container houses, and more. Containers are diverse and functional; in recent years, we have seen the amazing home, office, classroom and shed designs inspired by creativity and innovation. One of the best incentives for using containers for buildings is that it is very affordable, especially when using common building materials. Building with containers does not take a long time to complete, and they are mobile, which is advantageous for a business building when there are time constraints and needs to move. There is a sustainability element to using containers as buildings because there is a reduction in carbon footprint. Shipping containers give you the freedom to be creative and express personal style without any traditional construction and architectural rules restricting your creativity.

Shipping containers are an incredible tool for the supply chain and will remain for many years to come. They are also instrumental in constructing homes, shops, medical centres, classrooms, and more. As great as these structures are, there has been a recent bottlenecking of containers in China and the U.S. In a recent article, the owner of Dongkwang International Co., an apparel manufacturer, expresses his concerns about the recent shipping crisis. It is becoming more and more expensive to send products to and from China because there are already too many ships filled with products waiting to be attended to at the shores. The U.S has felt the pressure as customers spend more time at home making increasing online purchases. This puts port operations under extreme pressure causing ships to remain stagnant, and at the same time, companies face an increase of about four times the prices of containers in the last year (Read more). This is not the ideal situation but, it is estimated that it could become better shortly.

Upcycling Elements

For us, at Team Mahali, we pride ourselves on a modular design by using recycled shipping containers in our designs. Living in a port city made this easier to connect to the global supply chain until recently. With increased steel prices and the global shipping containers backlog, the cost-effective part of building with shipping containers is getting more challenging. But truth be told, the life cycle of a container on the sea is set in stone and makes for ongoing container upcycling. Shipping containers are built to be functional, pest proof, robust and structurally sane, which is one of the reasons for their increasing use as more than a means of shipping cargo around the world.

It would be great to assist with design and implementation of container buildings. Please reach out if we can help.


Recent Posts

See All