An innovative resuse approach involves repurposing shipping containers into homes and commercial structures.

In an era of sustainability and resourcefulness, using prior structures has emerged as a powerful tool in the realm of design and development. Adaptive reuse approaches are vast, from the restoration of historic landmarks to the transformation of industrial sites into vibrant community hubs.

Instead of tearing down old buildings and infrastructure and sending those materials to landfills, adaptive reuse breathes new life into spaces. Michigan Central Station in Detroit, a historic abandoned train station, was transformed into Ford Motor Company’s innovation and mobility center. Such projects not only preserve the character of a landmark but also foster a sense of connection to its past.

Among the myriad adaptive reuse strategies, one particularly innovative approach involves repurposing shipping containers into homes and commercial structures.

Multiple Applications

Perhaps the most unique example of adaptive reuse and design is the use of shipping containers as architectural elements. Originally designed for transporting goods across oceans, these steel containers have found new life as affordable and sustainable building materials, offering architects and homeowners a versatile canvas for creativity.

In Amsterdam, the Keetwonen Student Housing Complex stands as the largest shipping container village in the world. Housing more than 1,000 students, Keetwonen exemplifies how shipping containers can be transformed into comfortable living spaces without compromising quality or aesthetics. With their modular design, containers offer the flexibility to accommodate various layouts and configurations, making them an ideal solution for dense urban environments.

Beyond residential uses, shipping container architecture has also made its mark in commercial and cultural domains. The Boxpark concept, established in London and replicated in cities worldwide, involves the creation of pop-up retail and dining destinations using repurposed shipping containers. These temporary installations bring energy into urban landscapes while providing entrepreneurs with affordable spaces to showcase their goods and services.

Shipping container architecture has proven instrumental in disaster relief efforts and humanitarian initiatives. Organizations like Architecture for Humanity have leveraged container-based designs to quickly deploy shelters and medical facilities in crisis-stricken areas, offering temporary refuge to displaced communities. By repurposing readily available materials, these projects demonstrate the potential of adaptive reuse to address pressing social and environmental challenges.

One unique example of adaptive reuse, or “double recycled,” is a project led by ekō Solutions, a modular builder. This project takes upcycled shipping container homes that were once deployed to house victims of the western Kentucky tornadoes and moves these homes to a campground.

These containers have had three lives. The first was as a vessel to house goods being moved across oceans. In their second life, these shipping containers were converted into homes, creating stability during turbulent times as Kentucky communities were rebuilt after natural disasters. Finally, the very same containers have been moved to the Poplar Point Campground in Athens, Alabama, where they have been turned into unique contemporary glamping units available through Airbnb.

The ease of re-outfitting and mobility of these types of container homes allow them to be used in many ways after their initial use is no longer needed. These “double-recycled” units can be refitted for affordable housing, office, and even dining and recreational uses.

Addressing the Caveats

Although shipping container architecture offers numerous benefits, it is not without its challenges. Critics point to issues such as insulation, ventilation, and structural integrity as potential drawbacks of container-based construction. However, advances in technology and design have addressed many of these concerns, enabling building firms to create shipping container dwellings that are comfortable and sustainable.

Many spaces are customizable and can include different exterior siding and facades, artistic exterior paint jobs, or the chic look of interior shiplap, sliding barn doors, concrete countertops, and custom tin ceilings.


Further, the widespread adoption of container architecture has sparked innovation in the realms of sustainability and environmentally conscious building practices. From passive solar design to rainwater harvesting systems, container-based structures can incorporate a range of environmentally friendly features to minimize their footprint.

Reusing structures and building materials offers a compelling alternative to conventional design and development approaches. By repurposing existing structures and materials, builders and designers can breathe new life into neglected spaces and materials.

Among the diverse strategies of reuse design, shipping container projects stand out for their affordability, versatility, and sustainability. From vibrant urban communities to innovative disaster relief solutions, the potential of container-based construction is limited only by imagination. As we navigate the challenges of the 21st century, embracing the principles of adaptive reuse and “double recycling” will be essential in shaping a more resilient and sustainable built environment for future generations. •

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  • Peter Rodriguez

    Peter Rodriguez, President of ekō Solutions, is an operational executive with over 20 years of experience in building cost-effective solutions for the manufacturing sector ranging from housing, agriculture and automotive. Peter leads the overall design, build and implementation team at ekō Solutions. He holds a master’s in business administration and general management from Troy University and a bachelor’s of science in industrial technology management from Central Michigan University.

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