Sustainable Architecture: Shipping Containers and the Circular Economy

by | 06 January 2020

Stackable, airtight, made to withstand high wind and water, shipping containers are the latest sustainable commodity to enter the circular economy. Primarily used to transport bulk items overseas, for many countries it is most cost-effective to receive new shipping containers than incur the expense of a return. Unlike single-use plastic, the waste of one-trip shipping containers is averted as most are often sold and repurposed for alternative structural uses.

From prefabricated tiny homes to eco-chic hotels and hostels, shipping containers offer a creative solution to optimize space at a fraction of the cost. Each unit’s durability has an extended shelf-life of 10 to15 years, and its eco-friendly material has elevated the units as an affordable architectural solution for home and mixed-use spaces worldwide.

Here are a few of our favorite reuses:

  • Restaurants are warming up to the idea of integrating shipping containers into their real estate portfolio. Tacos Oscar in Oakland serves up Mexican fare in a bright and colorful shipping container that serves as a takeout window and full-fledged kitchen. And operators big and small are experimenting with “container pods” to house virtual kitchens thanks to their flexibility with location.
  • Mixed-use developers are leveraging shipping container architecture to revitalize urban spaces. The Detroit Shipping Company is a Detroit-based food hall, beer garden and gallery event space comprised of 21 refurbished shipping containers. The easy transport and disassembly of shipping containers inspired The Container Bar in Austin to create an assemblage that is adaptable and can be relocated within the city’s evolving footprint.
  • Meanwhile overseas, shipping containers are finding new life as prototypes for shopping malls. In South Korea, Urbantainer has developed a shopping mall complex built from 200 shipping containers. Common Ground is a modular retail corridor that capitalizes on the modular capabilities of the containers to create experiential, Instagrammable centers for its citizens.

One of my favorite examples that shows the versatility of shipping containers is Photoville, a bi-coastal traveling art installation. Started in New York City, Photoville uses refurbished containers to showcase the photography of independent artists in partnership with outdoor food vendors. The intimate space allows for one-on-one engagement between artists and citizens.

Do you know of other unique uses of shipping containers in the mixed-use retail space? Share your photos and follow me on Twitter for regular updates and musings about commercial real estate and the retail industry.

About the author:

Anjee continues to be an insatiable enthusiast of all things retail. She’s a student of culture with a pulse on future shoppers and the fleeting trends constantly changing the retail landscape … driving retailers, landlords and developers crazy!