Cargotecture: Another Future Path for Modern Architecture

The world is heading towards sustainability, which includes making the old new again to extend the useful life of manufactured materials. From fashion to industrial manufacturing and even agricultural technology, sustainable designs are gaining more popularity and are extremely important. But can architecture and construction be sustainable too?

Can buildings be innovatively designed from repurposed materials while also being affordable and aesthetically pleasing, somewhere people will want to live? Yes, they can. This is what cargotecture, buildings made from old cargo containers, is all about.

What Is Cargotecture?

Cargotecture is the partial or complete reuse of ISO-certified shipping containers, also called cargo containers, for constructing fully operational buildings, commercial spaces, and housing. The buildings economically utilize used shipping containers, which would have otherwise simply been discarded, eliminating the need for expensive raw materials that often require environmentally destructive processes to extract and refine.

Cargotecture produces modular buildings and homes that are cost-effective, time-effective, versatile, and secure. Also, because they fit together in unique ways, they are very customizable.

Why Consider Upcycled Shipping Containers?

If the idea of living or working in recovered cargo containers sounds odd, remember that people have adapted to new living conditions throughout pre-history and history, which has allowed humanity to spread to every corner of the planet.

end view of stacked shipping containers

Image by MichaelGaida from Pixabay

Now that we recognize that modern life is wasteful in ways our ancestors could not have imagined or measured, turning old industrial objects like shipping containers into living space is justified by cargotecture’s many benefits. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Cargotecture Is Sustainable

There are many old shipping containers that can be reused for houses and commercial buildings. By refurbishing these containers, the need to extract and process new raw materials is reduced and the used containers are kept out of the waste stream, making the construction highly sustainable.

It Can Be Eco-Friendly

In most cases, the building designs center on the containers with cut-outs for windows and doors. Because there is a negligible need for scrapping and melting the containers, the construction doesn’t have to be started from scratch. This saves a lot of energy and reduces the emission of greenhouse gases.

It’s Cost-Effective

By using upcycled shipping containers to create modular buildings and houses, the construction costs are fairly low. A cargotecture construction project is about 30% cheaper than a traditional project.

Quickly Installed and Durable

Shipping containers are prefabricated and can be dispatched and set up in a matter of days. So, cargotecture is a lot faster than most traditional construction projects.

Shipping containers are inherently designed for the transportation of things across land and water; hence they display excellent structural stability and durability. They are resistant to wear and tear, extreme weather conditions, temperature fluctuations, water, and chemicals.

Cargotecture Is Flexible

Portable storage containers offer outstanding flexibility for modifications as well as expansions. They can be restructured for different requirements. Also, multiple containers can be stacked to design various layouts to meet space requirements.

floating home made from shipping containers

Multiple stacked shipping containers make up this unique house. Image by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

It’s Customizable

These versatile shipping containers are fully customizable with add-on options such as locks, multiple doors and windows, interior and exterior lighting, plumbing, electrical connections, heating or cooling systems, flooring, and more. There is no restriction on designing and custom building.

It’s Safe

Cargotecture is a perfect choice for projects in remote areas because of the protection offered by high-quality shipping containers. The containers are extremely secure, and when customized with locks and lockboxes, it is almost impossible to break into one. They can keep your equipment and belongings safe from theft or even natural disasters such as earthquakes or hurricanes.

Starting a Cargotecture Project

While a cargotecture project has numerous advantages, there are a few precautionary measures that you should take to ensure the resulting life/workspace is safe.

Remove Hazardous Chemicals

Many old shipping containers were manufactured with lead-based paints on the walls and arsenic in the flooring material. These chemicals can be highly hazardous to human health. Make sure you check for these substances used and get them removed.

New or Used?

Depending on your project budget, goals, and requirements, you can either use new shipping containers or repurpose used ones. Used containers come in different quality grades, so the price will vary depending on the condition, but you will save some bucks buying a used container as compared to a brand new one. Used cargo containers are readily available and can be dispatched immediately without causing any delays in your project.

If you choose a used container, keep in mind where it was previously used. This helps in designing your project. A second-hand storage container would have no windows or flooring, so you would need to make those additions. Similarly, a shipping container previously used as a clinic would require some sanitation. It is important to consider how long the container was in use before you acquired it. If it was used for many years, it will require some retouching and, perhaps, metal patching.

Temperature Control

Shipping containers are made from high-quality steel. Steel absorbs and transmits heats and cold very well. This can cause major temperature fluctuations during the day and throughout the seasons, making the container either too hot or too cold, depending on the ambient temperature. To make the container suitable for people, it is important to install a temperature control system.

Local Building Codes

Check your local construction codes and regulations before starting your cargotecture project. Because modifications to cargo containers are not the traditional ways and materials of construction, some codes may differ. Make sure your project meets all regulations.

Coffee shop building made from shipping container

Coffee shop in Belfast. Image by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Cargotecture in Today’s Industries

Due to its versatility and durability, cargotecture is widely used in various industries and sectors as an alternative to traditional architecture.

Construction

Cargotecture has numerous applications in the construction industry. Just a few examples include commercial office spaces, buildings, cafes and bistros, restaurants, theatres, houses, hotels and lodging, studios, art galleries, and saunas.

Retail

The retail industry has embraced cargotecture to create easily relocatable supply outlets, pop-up shops, grocery and department stores, franchise chains, and stock storage spaces.

Education

Modular school buildings and classrooms can be designed from portable shipping containers. It is an efficient solution for remodeling and expanding educational facilities because shipping containers can be set up quickly with minimal disruption of the school’s routine. Cargotecture is a good idea for rural and remote areas where traditional construction methods may be expensive and complicated.

Gymnasiums, sports centers, study labs, and libraries in schools can also be created from shipping containers. Additionally, they make handy storage spaces for school equipment such as files and records, books, computers, and more.

Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Industry

Repurposed shipping containers can become remote hospitals, modular clinics, temporary first-aid centers, and emergency healthcare facilities during a crisis.

Communities in remote areas can set up a cargotecture clinic to provide medical services as well as for storing medical equipment. These container clinics are easy to relocate, providing healthcare services on the go. Rural areas in need of a pharmacy may also find upcycled cargo containers an affordable and effective building solution.

shipping container building in industrial area

Industrial

Industries require storage spaces for raw materials, finished products, and manufacturing equipment. Cargotecture can be used for designing temporary storage spaces and warehouses. The automotive industry, for instance, can use converted shipping containers to store auto parts, tools, and finished vehicles.

Agriculture

The agriculture industry can also use converted containers for storage of grains, fertilizers and pesticides, and farming tools. Cargotecture can also be used to create necessary facilities such as restrooms for farmers and field workers.

Choose Your Project and Learn

Many places around the world are embracing the idea of building sustainable cities using revamped, upcycled cargo containers. This housing concept is revolutionizing the way we perceive modern architecture. It offers affordable housing options to underserved populations, creative options to those seeking to downsize and live more sustainably, and efficient solutions to business and industry.

How creative can you get with cargo container structures?  Watch for our upcoming article that features 10 creative cargotecture structures around the world.

About the Author

Amanda Wilson is an established freelance writer who has built her career specializing in modern building architecture and construction.

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