Shipping Containers Upcycling in Large Format: Sea Freight Containers Become Living Modules

The challenges facing architecture today are extremely diverse, regardless of whether it’s the living or working sector. On a global scale, more and more people require more and more living space of a better standard, whereas with office and commercial space more flexibility and sustainability is demanded.

Converted freight containers are perfectly suited to reacting to the numerous new demands. In terms of sustainability, energy efficiency, flexibility and building cost security, the modular design based on a refined (freight) container presents a fascinating and architecturally exciting chance to create modern living and working areas.

About Containerwerk

Sea freight containers make comfortable living space: the company Containerwerk has specialized in this unusual way of reuse, not least thanks to an innovative shipping container insulation process. The Stuttgart start-up buys used, discarded freight containers for this purpose and is expanding their shell and interior into functional, stylish living space. Several modules can be connected to entire residential shipping container buildings, and other types of use are conceivable.

The lifetime of a common freight container is on average 13 years. After that, the mass is just scrap metal. The start-up Containerwerk, which was founded in 2017, aims to meet a whole range of current challenges by converting used large-capacity shipping containers and processing them into inexpensive, ready-to-move-in residential shipping container homes. These challenges include housing shortages, lack of space, waste of resources or environmental pollution. The founding of the company was preceded by long development processes, which were developed, among others, in cooperation with the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB) and the Fraunhofer Institute. As a result, a fully automated, multi-patented process was developed, enabling monolithic, thermal bridge-free and slim high-performance insulation for the container shell.

Innovative shipping container insulation method

Even if the idea of ​​conversion for freight containers is not entirely new, functionality and series maturity were preceded by decisive development steps. Over the course of many years, shipping container insulation processes had to be tested, which ultimately resulted in an innovation and the founding of the Stuttgart-based company. Ultimately, polyurethane foam is used, which is extremely difficult to process, as one of the founders Ivan Mallinowski explains. "The temperature of the wall must be exactly right. If it is too cold, the foam will retract and not foam enough. And if it is too warm, it foams too much and sticks. We made many attempts, including with BASF, and found that it must be applied at exactly 19.3 °C for everything to work. Plus, it has an extremely short second-by-second response time where it needs to be right where it should go."

This led to the task of processing a polyurethane foam three-dimensionally fully automatically and installing it as a monolithic shipping container insulation in a unit. With the help of the Institute for Fuel Processing at RWTH Aachen University and a plant manufacturer, a corresponding polyurethane plant could be produced. Together with the second company founder Michael Haiser, the starting signal for container production and the serial production of residential shipping container homes on a large scale, which today takes place at the production site Wassenberg near Düsseldorf, followed.

Microarchitecture in many variants and diversity in shipping container homes design 

Within a certain framework of their original morphology, there are no limits to the stylistic limits of the modules. On the occasion of the Milan Furniture Fair 2018, the company together with partners presented possible forms of their microarchitecture in several installations. Not only the diversity of the façade design or the degree of high-quality interior shipping container homes design became clear, but also the possibilities to configure modular ensembles to whole buildings. Since the individual cuboids can be variably connected in the horizontal and vertical, individual multi-room solutions can be created. Due to their low weight, the blocks can be stacked, but also integrated into existing building structures. The short construction time, transportability and cost-effective design seems to be a reasonable solution for temporary or permanent living space concepts. In addition, the manufacturer also promises other types of use. From the office room to the hotel, boarding house or dormitory, to the elderly facility or even rehabilitation clinic, shipping containers can be converted.

From upcycling to recycling product

The new concept of energy and raw material efficiency is also a long-term commitment: With its innovative insulation technology, the microarchitecture is above the EnEV standard. All materials used can be sorted at the end of the life cycle of the container and 100% recycled. And since usually mobile point foundations are sufficient, the plot is spared and cleared without residue. A promising concept that has already won numerous awards in its early corporate history. Containerwerk emerged as the winner of the Green Product Award 2018 in the category of architecture, was named one of the 100 most innovative companies in Germany by the initiative "Germany - Land of Ideas" and was selected by the GreenTec Awards, which are the world's best projects in the area Environmental and resource conservation, with two finalist titles honored: in the category "Construction & Living" and with the start-up special prize 2018.

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The growth of the cities and the digital transformation change the idea of living itself. Co-living combines the answers to all the needs of contemporary, intelligent and efficient living concepts, the most young, flexible and agile people on a global scale and meet the requirements to live up to the present. Shipping container housing modules allow affordable space, the new, corresponds to digitally shaped lifestyles. The central location in an urban context is important but also the connection to attractive neighborhoods and comprehensive mobility offers. Critical is also the right balance between private space, so privacy in your own room, and shared
space with access to the diverse common areas.


About Containerwerk

We’re Containerwerk. Developers, designers and self-starters. We went in search of answers to housing shortages and to affordable, resource-conserving, contemporary living … and found them.

In the spirit of the circular economy and environmental and social sustainability, Containerwerk purchases used shipping containers and upgrades the body into high-quality, affordable living space.

Thoroughly convinced and fascinated by the idea of building with disused shipping containers, we began by focusing our efforts on the ‘building blocks’ of this architecture. This led us to develop a technique that turns a single container into a universal and sustainable living module.

Official website

Shipping Containers Upcycling in Large Format: Sea Freight Containers Become Living Modules