Shipping container conversions or ‘cargotecture’ is a form of architecture using steel intermodal containers (shipping containers) as a building material or complete structural solution. Due to their inherent strength, wide availability and relatively low cost shipping containers are in many ways an ideal building material.
They are designed to carry heavy loads and to be stacked in high columns. They are also designed to resist harsh environments – such as on ocean-going vessels or sprayed with road salt while transported on roads and are also completely fire proof in raw form. Due to their high strength, containers are extremely secure when locked.
All shipping containers are made to standard measurements and as such they provide modular elements that can be combined into larger structures. This simplifies design, planning and transport. As they are already designed to interlock for ease of mobility during transportation additional construction can be relatively straight forward as containers are designed to be stacked. Empty containers can be stacked up to 12 high.
Pre-fabricated modules can also be easily transported by ship, truck or rail, because they already conform to standard shipping sizes. The size and weight of the containers will, in most cases, require them to be placed by a crane or forklift.
Container Conversions have been used for a wide range of applications over the past 30 years and no where is this more prevalent than in the Plant Hire sectors and the military. Due to the limitless resource they have a natural economy of scale, which lends them selves to temporary structure briefs that require hundreds of units. For example a recent container conversion project in the Ukraine housed approx. 16,000 vendors.
However some of the most inspirational uses are less obvious. A massive array of Container Conversions or “Cargotecture” structures have already been built all over the world, and their uses, sizes, locations and appearances vary widely.
When futurist Stewart Brand needed a place to assemble all the material he needed to write How Buildings Learn, he converted a shipping container into office space, and wrote up the conversion process in the same book.
In 2006, Southern California Architect Peter DeMaria, designed the first two story shipping container home in the U.S. as an approved structural system under the strict guidelines of the nationally recognized Uniform Building Code (UBC). This home was the Redondo Beach House and it inspired the creation of Logical Homes, a container conversion based pre-fabricated home company. In 2007, Logical Homes created their flagship project – the Aegean, for the Computer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Several architects, such as Adam Kalkin have built original homes, using discarded shipping containers for their parts or using them in their original form, or doing a mix of both.
In 2000, the firm Urban Space Management completed the project called Container City I in the Trinity Buoy Wharf area of London. The firm has gone on to complete additional container-based building projects, with more underway. In 2006, the Dutch company Tempohousing finished in Amsterdam the biggest container village in the world: 1,000 student homes from modified shipping containers from China.
Brian McCarthy, an MBA student, saw many poor neighborhoods in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico during an MBA field trip in the 2000s. Since then he developed prototypes of shipping container housing for typical maquiladora workers in Mexico.
In 2010 German Architect and Production Designer, Stefan Beese, utilized six 40’ long shipping containers to create a large viewing deck and a VIP lounge area for to substitute the typical grand stand scaffold structure at the Voodoo Music Experience, New Orleans. The container conversion also smartly doubles as storage space for other festival components throughout the year. The two top containers are cantilevered nine feet on each side creating two balconies that are prime viewing locations. There are also two bars located on the balconies. Each container was perforated with cutouts spelling the word “VOODOO,” which not only brands the structure but also creates different vantage points and service area openings. And since the openings them self act as signage for the event, no additional materials or energy were needed to create banners or posters.
Grand Stand and VIP Lounge made from Shipping Containers for the 2009 & 2010 Voodoo Music Experience, City Park, New Orleans, LA.USA.
Empty shipping containers are commonly used as market stalls and warehouses in the countries of the former USSR, such as the Bishkeks, Dordoy Bazaar.
The biggest shopping mall or organized market in Europe is made up of alleys formed by stacked containers, on 69 hectares (170 acres) of land, between the airport and the central part of Odessa, Ukraine. Informally named “Tolchock” and officially known as the Seventh-Kilometer Market it has 16,000 vendors and employs 1,200 security guards and maintenance workers.
In Central Asia, the Dordoy Bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, almost entirely composed of double-stacked containers, is of comparable size. It is popular with travelers coming from Kazakhstan and Russia
In 2011 the Cashel Mall in Christchurch, New Zealand reopened in a series of shipping containers months after it had been destroyed in the February earthquake that devastated the city’s central business.
Also in 2011, we’ve seen the opening in December of the sure to be iconic and much anticipated Boxpark in Shorteditch. Now home to more than 60 carefully chosen fashion, arts and lifestyle brands. Created by Roger Wade founder of Boxfresh, we were certainly convinced, even before it’s conception, that this was the future, so we wish Boxpark and it’s new residents every success, but based on what we saw on a recent visit we don’t they will need it!
We have specifically seen Containers converted for over 100 individual uses, these include:
- Portable Modular Data Center.
- Shipping containers have also been used as
- Press Boxes
- Emergency hurricane shelters for thoroughbred horses
- Concession Stands
- Fire Training Facility
- Military Training Facility
- Emergency shelters
- School buildings
- Urban homes
- Rural homes
- Apartment and office buildings
- Artists’ studios
- Moveable exhibition spaces on rails
- Telco hubs
- Bank vaults
- Medical clinics
- Radar stations
- Shopping malls
- Sleeping rooms
- Recording Studios
- Abstract art
- Transportable factories
- Modular data centers (e.g. Project Blackbox, Portable Modular Data Center)
- Experimental labs
- Clandestine Cannabis gardens
- Combatant Temporary Containment (ventilated)
- Intermodal sealed storage on ships, trucks, and trains
- House Foundations on unstable seismic zones
- Elevator/stairwell shafts
- Construction trailers
- Mine site accommodations
- Exploration camp
- VIP Lounge Viewing Deck
- Housing and other architecture
One fundamental principal applies to the vast majority of the case studies referenced above – custom conversion on demand or by brief. WhiteCrate has taken the container conversion to beyond this principal and another level that is based around existing event principals and demand. To be available with little or no lead-time and to be rapidly deployed in to various locations. The WhiteCrate is a PRE-modified unit that is truly event ready, with all of the basic conversion such as entrance, exit, glazing, electrical distribution, lighting, high quality painted finish, floor covering and furniture all ready in place. All elements are designed to be customized and the level of customization is virtually unlimited, however an event ready WhiteCrate could be deployed to any site in the UK within 24 hrs. A service not available until now using converted containers.
The team at WhiteCircle has developed the WhiteCrate product based around existing proved standards of quality control. Our exacting exhibition design, production and installation techniques have been applied to the WhiteCrate, which has resulted in an unprecedented level of fit-and-finish. Details such as skirting, hidden electrical distribution, quality double glazing, high grade custom flooring materials, Pantone paint choices, heating, AC and ventilation, and complimentary structures, platforms and canopies around and top of the WhiteCrate have allowed the container conversion to be pushed further still.