7 Surprising Uses for Shipping Containers

Posted By: January 18, 2015 In Featured

Want to build your own shipping container home? Start Here.

Over the last couple of years we have seen some truly amazing uses of the humble shipping container, people are really starting to see these containers as fantastic building material! From swimming pools to art studios, the uses of containers are only limited by what you can imagine. So let’s get straight to the top seven surprising uses of shipping containers.

1. Swimming Pool

In number one spot is the swimming pool. How cool, would that be to have a pool in the back yard and better yet know it’s made from a container! The first time I saw this I was blown away; I don’t know about you but looking at the picture I couldn’t even tell this pool was made from a shipping container.

The pool pictured is Stefan Beese’s, an architect based in New Orleans, brainchild. The pool is approximately 20 foot x 8 foot so you can certainly get some decent exercise in here. Just in-case this isn’t enough for you, the pool can even be drained and transported to a new location if they ever move house!

Beese started by sourcing a container, stating it’s important to find one without rust and large dents in it, because this would be visible once the pools made. Once the container was onsite, it was cleaned and sprayed with anti-corrosive paint. Next step was to dig out a shallow hole to drop the container into and then the hole needs lining with limestone to protect the soil. The container is then lined with half inch insulation foam and a pool liner. The container was then dropped into the hole and cladded with pine slats to cover up the steel. In total the pool cost around $6,000 but Beese claims it could have cheaper if he did the labour himself.

2. Hospital

Our second most surprising use for a shipping container is this incredible cardiac surgery centre based just outside of Sudan close to the river Nile. The hospital was built in 2013 using old shipping containers and its hot water is powered by an on-site farm of solar panels.
Whilst local architects, TAMassociati Architecture, were designing the hospital they were told about the containers already at the hospital. They took them as inspiration and used them to construct the entire hospital. Over 100 shipping containers were used in total, the majority of which were used for family and hospital staff accommodation; of which there are over 63 hospital beds.
Each room has its own balcony looking out onto the hospital courtyards and the rooms are kept cool in the summers using a ventilated steel roof and bamboo blinds. The cardiac centre has been operational since 2007 and now performs over 1,500 surgical procedures each year.

Source: salam centre

3. Restaurant

Now how many of you thought you’d ever be eating a spicy Mexican burrito in a shipping container that was once used to send TVs from china all over the world? Wahaca, a Mexican restaurant based in London, launched a massive eight container pop up restaurant in Southbank Center back in 2013. One of the shipping containers has even been modified into a street stall so you can grab your burrito to go!

Guests can either eat inside the shipping containers, which have huge glass windows in them providing views out onto the Thames, or dinners can eat outside. The inside of the restaurant was decorated with recycled benches adding to the ‘upcycle’ theme.

The pop up restaurant was used in a street art exhibition back in 2013 and fitted in perfectly with other tourist attractions at Southbank, including the roof gardens at Queen Elizabeth Hall and the world’s largest solar panel bridge which cuts over 500 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.

Source: wahaca

4. Hotel

At fourth place is a hotel (or advertising billboard!) which is made entirely of steel beams and shipping containers. Earlier last year we got a sneak peak at one of Hong Kong’s most anticipated hotels, the Hive Inn. It’s designed by OVA Studio’s and will be over 20 containers high when it’s finished.

The Hive Inn will be a modular design so rooms can literally be ‘traded in’ or out by the crane which will be based at the very top of the Hive. This will allow the hotel to adapt and get bigger or smaller depending on the amount of containers that are currently stacked inside it.

It’s expected that once the Hive has been built there will be lots of advertising opportunities for companies who want to place their own themed container within the Hive. The inside of the container could also be branded providing fans of the brand with a unique experience.

OVA Studio has also indicated that their design, on a smaller scale, lends itself to emergency housing. The modular design could be used to give quickly build up containers within the ‘hive’ structure to provide housing.

Source: Daily Mail

5. School

The fith most surprising use for a shipping container is this school classroom made for Vissershok Primary School in South Africa. The classroom was funded by three companies in South Africa and was built in 2010. Since then the classroom has received significant press coverage and has inspired numerous other similar initiatives.

The shipping container is now the classroom for 25 first graders who live in impoverish conditions in Dunoon, Cape Town. The classroom even doubles as a library in the afternoon for the entire primary school!

The container has a huge roof which acts as a sunshade for the children in the warm summer heat, it also allows air to blow through the top of the classroom and cool them down. In addition to this there are several windows on the side of the classroom that allows air to blow through the classroom to cool it down.

The classroom was built under budget so the rest of the sponsorship money was spent on creating vegetable patches nearby which the children grow their own vegetables in and get to keep them!

Source: archdaily

6. Art Studio

It’s not often that you find an art studio that is arguably as good as the art inside of it but this is the sixth surprising use of a shipping container; an art studio. Fittingly called the container studio is it 840 square foot and was made out of two high top 40 foot shipping containers.

This stunning building was designed by MB Architecture who are based in New York. Andrea Shapiro, the artist who lives in Amagansett- New York, wanted an affordable but spacious solution to house their artwork. The final product is a two story art studio which was built using two shipping containers above ground and to dig out a basement which was concreated and acts as the main studio room.

Their total budget was $60,000 and the picture art studio was delivered under budget for $58,000. Each of the containers cost around $2,500 and this includes the delivery costs. The art studio was completed in 2010 and is now open and is located in the forests within Amagansett- New York.

Source: gizmag

7. An Office

Royal Wolf hire and sell shipping containers so it seems fitting their company offices are made out of them! Back in 2013 they approached Room 11, Australian architects, and they sat down and put this plan to paper.

The offices are made using both 40foot and 20foot containers and are arranged in a giant rectangle which creates gaps in the middle of the office to make room for four courtyards; nearly all the rooms within the office can see out onto a courtyard.

The ends of the 40 foot containers have been cut out and replaced with incredible glass windows which really allow a lot of light into the offices. The ends were then used to double skin the walls to give the office more insulation. Paying tribute to the shipping container Royal Wolf have left the ceiling of the containers untouched so you can still see the exposed corrugated steel.

The offices were built in 2013 and are still a great spectacle and conversion piece for everybody who visits them.

We hope you’ve surprised by some of these fantastic uses of shipping containers and can take some inspiration from them! If you’ve seen any other great uses of shipping containers be sure to let us know in the comments below; we’d love to hear from you.

  1. Bernie

    Outstanding site Tom. I am currently thinking of buying 12 and 1/2 acres on the outskirts of Colden, New York. Southern most part of Erie County in Western New York. The temperatures range from the eighties-nineties in the summer to 0-30 in the winter. Obviously the outside would have to be clad. I’m thinking of buying a forty foot and a twenty foot container and joining them to make a two bedroom get-away. Price not being a factor what kind of insulation would you use between the cladding and the container? And would you also insulate the inside as well?



    • Tom

      With price not being a factor I would spray foam both internally and externally using a closed cell foam.

      Best of luck Bernie,


  2. Joann Brosnan

    My dad has been lobbying for container re-use since his retirement from customs in the 1980s. One of the uses we brainstormed is a 20′ combination HVAC center and tornado shelter. The container would be divided into a utilities portion and a shelter portion, before delivery to a site. It would then be anchored centrally and the house would be assembled in connection. Access would be at a moment’s notice.

    • Tom

      Hi Joann,

      It sounds like a great idea. I believe they are testing an idea similar to this at the moment in NY.


  3. JJ

    I have seen a Starbucks drive-thru made out of containers! It was really awesome!

  4. Michael

    Looking forward to getting our own place and having this as a man cave

  5. Jeannie Grace

    I see that shipping containers can be used for pools! Wow!

    I might be moving to upstate NY near a lake, where there is lots of snow and rain. What about wear and tear on the container? Will it have to be replaced at some point?


    • schp

      Hi Jeannie,

      Yes- they can be used for pretty much anything these days!

      It really depends what you decide to clad the external shell in and how you maintain it. If it’s cladded and well maintained you will be fine.


  6. jeremy

    AWESOME!! I am looking to do a container pool that either will be double the width (2 containers somehow) or have 2 containers stacked and have the top container with the pool and then have a cantilever shade over it.

    • Tom

      Sounds great Jeremy!

      Let us know how you get on,


  7. DongDao

    Thank you for sharing. I was amazed on the pool. Never thought it could be possible. I was wondering can it be used as a koi fish with lotus flowers pond. My understanding digging any grounds more than three feet needs permit. Do I use the pool permit or something else?

    • Tom

      Hi DongDao,

      I’m glad you liked the pool!

      That sounds like a great idea- it depends where you live, each area has their own building code so you’d need to speak with your local planning department.

      Let us know how you get on.