10 Brilliant, Boxy and Sustainable Shipping Container Homes

By Joe Wertz

Shipping containers are tough. Built from weathering steel, these building blocks of international trade are designed to withstand stacking, stuffing and strapping and are reused over and over. There are roughly 17 million of these containers floating, riding and flying around the world today, but the recent sustainable design trend has found these containers re-purposed to carry a more fragile cargo — humans.

Eight feet tall, eight feet wide and either 20 or 40 feet long, the containers don’t contain much space, but architects and building designers on the next page don’t exactly build within the box, so hit the jump and size up 10 great shipping container homes.

The Four Room House

Stacked vertically on four different floors, Belgian architects Pieter Peelings and Silvia Mertens of Sculp(IT) have created a compact home for streamlined living. Each of the four small rooms serves a specific function. From the bottom up, a spiral staircase links a work floor, kitchen/dining floor, the living room floor and on the uppermost floor, a bedroom and bathroom space.


Atelier Workshop’s Port-a-bach is a portable retreat designed to have a low-impact use on its host landscape. The housing unit can be dropped on site by helicopter or delivered by truck and easily connects to local utilities. The home unfolds to “comfortably sleep” two adults and two children and has a bedroom and integrated kitchen and storage cupboards.


The Ecopod is a small and energy-efficient way for a homeowner to get off the grid. The container home is easily transported and secure enough to leave in remote locations for extended lengths of time. Each Ecopod is powered by an 80-watt solar panel, floored with rubber made from recycled tires and insulated with a soy-based product.

Espace Mobile

The affordable and modular Espace Mobile home is designed to be customized, a process the designer likened to adding options to a new car purchase. The homes are made to retain heat and conserve energy and can be tweaked to include a balcony or all manner of roof and interior configurations.

Container City

Urban Space Management’s Container City system makes the most use of urban space utilizing the innate design benefit of shipping containers — stacking. The modular units can be used for homes, apartments, office and work spaces and simply bolt together. The Container City designs are already being used by youth centers and for classrooms, art studios and retail spaces around the world.


An Exposure Architects project to create an eco-sustainable building and to reduce CO2 emissions, the Greentainer uses available resources and a solar panel to power the small housing unit, which could be used on an existing site as an accessory building or as a small cabin space in a remote location.


Keith Dewey used shipping containers to create a 2,000 square-foot home in Victoria, British Columbia. Using the recycled container building blocks, which only cost Dewey a few thousand dollars each, he was able to build his Zigloo, a three-bed/two-bath home with an open floor plan, five balconies and a full basement.

Redondo Beach Container House

Built around California’s notoriously stringent construction codes, De Maria Design’s Redondo Beach Container House is sleek and contemporary, barely hinting at the recycled and sustainable nature of the house. The American Institute of Architects gave the home design a 2007 award for innovative design, which incorporates the used shipping containers, which are integrated with traditional home building techniques.

Mobile Dwelling Unit

Each volume of LOT-EK’s Mobile Dwelling Unit serves a specific function. Built for those “moving around the globe,” the transportable MDU travels with its owner, returning to its shipping container roots by storing all their possessions and belongings during the trip.

All Terrain Cabin

Big enough for a family of four and a pet, BARK’s All Terrain Cabin was designed so its owners could live off the grid, but not without comfort. The home can be transported by train, truck, plane or helicopter and when folded up, resembles a typical shipping container. Once installed, it expands into a 480 square-foot living space.