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A New Use for Shipping Containers


Shipping containers are an increasingly common fixture of architecture, storage, and infrastructure, extending their original purpose in the freight transportation industry. Their strength, wide availability, and relatively low expense, coupled with their eco-friendly features, have seen them become a fashionable architectural alternative in cities both contemporary and traditional.

So popular have they become, that many architecture studios are turning to them as examples of monumental and memorable pieces in their catalogues. Some examples include: locally, where shipping containers are being used as a feature architectural piece on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, or abroad, where a Dutch crane has been converted into accommodation with the aid of three stacked shipping containers. 

Shipping containers are quickly deployable, scaleable, transportable, and aesthetically interesting. 

In his recent think piece for The Conversation AU, Dr. Morgan Saletta explored the potential for shipping containers to contribute to a “plug and play” infrastructure model, due to the desirable options they afford. These include being quickly deployable, scaleable, transportable, and aesthetically interesting. 

Dr. Saletta is a part of the Department of Management and Marketing, and School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at The University of Melbourne. He spoke to Jobsite ANZ about ways the once-modest shipping container is transforming the modern built environment.

One Design, Many Uses

Dr. Saletta begins by noting the ubiquitous nature of shipping containers, including use as simple garden sheds, all the way to a elevated, designer homes. 

“(Shipping containers) are also increasingly important in infrastructure,” Dr. Saletta notes. “Containerised solutions include turn-key power generation, renewable power systems like solar and bio-diesel, as well as water treatment systems – even as portable health clinics. These are commonly used in remote areas, by the military and in disaster relief.”

“Shipping containers have the potential to revolutionise the way communities can upgrade and install key architecture in the future.” 

Indeed, the City of Brooklyn experimented with multi-story post-disaster housing complexes to accommodate those in the wake of natural disaster. In the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, shipping containers were used to construct barriers around the houses that had been impacted, protecting people from falling debris. Their size and sturdiness makes them a perfect candidate for these scenarios – not to mention the fact that by their very nature, they are easy to load, transport, and unload.

Dr. Saletta adds, “(Shipping containers) also have the potential to revolutionise the way communities can upgrade and install key architecture in the future.” 

A Role to Play in Construction

In construction, shipping containers should be considered in the planning process. 

“They are standardised, and create the ability to provide plug and play architectural and infrastructure solutions. They can be rapidly deployed, are cost-effective, and can be easily scale up if need be,” says Dr. Saletta.

In construction, shipping containers should be considered in the planning process.  

In addition to being considered for the end architectural outcome, shipping containers have a plethora of uses on the construction site as a temporary solution. A construction site has many unique needs when it comes to amenities and servicing the people who work on the site, and shipping containers have a role to play in addressing these issues. They can be used for portable offices, break-out rooms, or first-aid centres.

If there weren’t already enough reasons to consider the role shipping containers can play in your next construction project, then consider the positive environmental impact, says Dr. Saletta.

“Containerised infrastructure, from biogas generators to containerised farms, provide affordable, scalable, plug and play solutions for communities seeking to be more sustainable and resilient going into the future,” he notes.

Ultimately, shipping container construction uses are appealing because it essentially involves recycling something from its former use, into something brand new, without the need to damage the environment through the creation of new products. Just take a look at some examples of these amazing, livable homes across Australia made from recycled shipping containers.


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