The inherent re-usability of shipping containers is causing colorful, sturdy additions to our agriculture, housing and commercial redevelopment opportunities. For those who think The Container Store is cool, these boxes are super hot.

Shipping containers are designed to facilitate the transportation between different means of transportation, like ships, trucks and trains - but their extra special power resides in those beautifully standardized dimensions: eight feet wide, eight feet high and 20 or 40 feet long. 

As reported on NationSwell, “the container’s best asset is its near-endless reusability, a quality that’s attracted those outside the maritime industry.” The article by Chris Peak focuses on three inspiring projects:


Urban Agriculture

In 2013, U.S. had a food import, amounting to more than $100 billion. Most of the provisions are cultivated overseas in countries like China, India, France and Chile. Two Massachusetts entrepreneurs — Brad McNamara and Jon Friedman — converted the shipping containers into Freight Farms.

Consistent harvests of vegetables grow hydroponically, that is, their roots absorb mineral nutrient solutions in water, without need for soil. Each container can generate an amount equal to one acre’s worth of food.

“Our goal was to create a system that works the same in Alaska as it does in Dallas,” Friedman tells Outside magazine. The harvest can yield throughout the year, and everything is computer-regulated: the levels of the LED lighting system that mimic sunlight, the water’s pH balance, and the concentration of nutrients released through the irrigation system.

“Each farm is a WiFi-enabled hotspot, so, your farm gets put down, it’s plugged in and it’s immediately on the web,” McNamara tells the local public radio station. Through a mobile app, you can set alerts and alarms and regularly check the yield status. “So, if you’re at home and it’s really cold outside, your farm’s covered in snow, you don’t actually have to leave your house to go check on things,” he adds.

Commercial Redevelopment

Converting industrial materials is often a pillar of urban redevelopment. On the Jersey Shore, shipping containers are being transformed into stores and art studios on the beach.

In Asbury Park, New Jersey, Eddie Catalano has turned a container into an ice cream parlor. “I actually never thought it would be possible to get all the equipment that I need in such a small space,” Catalano declares to the local paper. “Lo and behold, six years later, it works. It definitely works.” Despite the structure not being the “most attractive,” it is highly practical. “It handles the elements well, it handles the weather well,” he adds.

On duckboards nearby, another container managed by Sari Perlstein, sells boutique clothing. During Hurricane Sandy, the structure remained anchored to the boardwalk.

On the other hand, Perlstein’s traditionally-built store didn’t survive the flooding. For that reason, she moved her business to the new, innovative location. Currently, “if there were a horrific storm we can get a crane and move that thing off. We can take it away,” she says. “That is a plus. Because if it was a building again, you’d just wave it goodbye.”

Social Cause

Since shipping containers are solid structures, water-resistant and rust-free, they have been advanced as a remedy to our housing shortage.

In Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the Veterans Housing Development, a newly established nonprofit, is renovating shipping containers into permanent residences for homeless veterans.

“Anyone notices and sees homeless veterans on street corners and in tent cities around the Horry County area, and around the country. … I have a passion for this because I hate seeing veterans out there on the streets,” Brad Jordan, a disabled veteran and the nonprofit’s executive director, tells The State newspaper. “There’s a lot of funding available for veterans housing, but not a lot of housing available.”

The group recently completed its first one-bedroom apartment and presented it at a fundraiser. Its ultimate objective is to build a gated village someplace in town, “a secure and safe environment with programs that are going to assist the veterans,” Jordan adds. “If we build 40 [homes], there would be 40 filled tomorrow. The need is there.”

Hero Image by Håkan Dahlström - - Creative Commons licence