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Adam Anderson

Shipping containers could alter construction industry

by Adam Anderson | Dun & Bradstreet Editor

November 28, 2012 | 5 Comments »

Shipping Container Complex

Model of shipping container complex to be built by Three Squared, Inc., in Detroit – Image courtesy of Three Squared, Inc.

Thousands of giant steel boxes containing manufactured goods from China arrive in US ports each day. However, after being emptied, many containers sit unused and abandoned along America’s waterfronts. But for others, their destiny is different. Increasingly, these containers are being repurposed as homes, offices, and even coffee shops and grocery stores.

Durable shipping containers can provide quick and affordable alternatives for residential and commercial construction. A typical shipping container — about 40 feet long, 12 feet wide, and 9 feet 6 inches tall  — can be easily stacked or combined with other units to provide living or commercial space.

As green building initiatives catch on, and construction rebounds, the US residential and commercial construction industries are eager to cut costs. Prices for traditional construction materials such as lumber and steel are high. By reusing shipping containers, companies can cut the cost of building in half and projects can be completed quickly, according to Leslie Horn, the CEO of Three Squared, Inc., a company that builds with shipping containers.

“This surplus of ’empties’ has the potential to revolutionize the residential and commercial construction industry and greatly impact [the] economy at large,” Horn said in a written statement.

And Horn should know. Detroit-based Three Squared is slated to build more than $109 million in shipping container projects over the next two years. The company started building the first multifamily residence made from old shipping containers. The $3.9 million project, made from 93 containers, is in Detroit and will include 20 units and be four stories tall. Construction began on a model center this month and is scheduled to be completed by January.

Sea Box is another company that modifies shipping containers for residential and commercial use. It also converts containers for use by the US Air Force. Sea Box is working closely with New York City and federal officials to develop new temporary housing made from shipping containers. The destruction from super storm Sandy has reminded many about the importance of sturdy housing, and shipping containers may be a good solution.

Affordability, sustainability, and reduced construction time appeal to corporations and governments seeking to build new projects. Shipping containers already meet building and safety codes, and most are well insulated. What started as a construction fad in the US may just stick around and become a trend as more shipping container buildings pop up across the country.







Fascinating! I’ve wondered about other uses for shipping containers ever since I visited an Austin bakery/coffee shop housed in one. I love this idea for repurposing these sturdy boxes. I hope you’ll keep us up to date as the industry grows.

Thanks, Lynett! I’ve also been interested in these containers. My parents actually have an old Santa Fe boxcar at their house they use as a storage barn. We’ve had it for many years. It was a huge trend for awhile as I think the railroad retired many of its old boxcars.

Also, as a side note, the coffee shop you mentioned here in Austin, La Boite, was cool. It recently closed, however.

Catherine Colbert

This is a wonderful recycling and repurposing effort. Sounds somewhat like new-age LEGOs for green architects.

I saw that La Boite closed but not why. Do you know?

They sited something to do with their bakery partner. here

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