How Shipping Containers Became Used as Other Things

Shipping containers continue to evolve beyond their original use for transporting goods. They can be used for hotels, houses, restaurants, hospitals, and more.

But how? And why?

In this article, we explore how shipping containers became used as other things, what purposes they’re being used for, and why they’re in demand.

How Shipping Containers Became Used as Other Things


Shipping containers started as a more effective method of transport, thanks to a man named Malcom McLean.

The idea to use shipping containers for alternative means has several origins. In 1962, the Insbrandsten Company filed a patent for using containers as exhibition booths.

A few years later in the 1970s, UK architect Nicholas Lacey wrote his college thesis on reusing shipping containers for housing means.

This would ultimately lead to a man named Philip C. Clark, who was the first individual to patent shipping containers for housing purposes.

In 1987, Clark filed for a US patent for a method for converting steel containers into habitable buildings. This could be considered the first step in sustainable housing!

Patent by Philip C Clark

Clark demonstrated how Conex boxes could be used as a house, citing weight-bearing foundations, and that containers were perfect for modular building material.

Seven years later, Stewart Brand published a book called “How Buildings Learn”, where he discusses using them as office space.

Shipping Container Architecture


From the concept of reusing containers for other things, containers began to grow in popularity when it came to using them as homes.

Shipping Container Home

This housing trend lead to what is called shipping container architecture.

Shipping container architecture is architecture that uses shipping containers for structural components. Container homes seem to be the most popular.

The global market for container homes is expected to reach over $73 million dollars by 2025, thanks to the quickness of building, ease of access, and lower building costs.

Global Container Homes Market

Container homes, as mentioned, are incredibly sustainable and are perfect for homeowners who want to go green or worry about their impact on the environment.

Shipping containers are incredibly easy to modify, by adding things like solar panels, insulation, wind power, solar showers, and more.

And because you’re reusing and repurposing a shipping container, you’re engaging in something called ‘upcycling’. This is the process of taking something and turning it into something new and different.

Apart from single dwellings, shipping containers have also been used for apartment buildings and even dormitories.

But housing isn’t the only things that can be made from shipping containers.

Here’s just a few items that can be made out of shipping containers:

  • Mobile offices
  • Hotels
  • Restaurants
  • Pop up shops
  • Hospitals

Let’s look at each of these in depth.

Mobile Offices

By definition, mobile offices are usually prefabricated portable trailers, temporary storage spaces, or can be a combination of the two.

Stewart Brand first introduced the idea of using shipping containers as mobile offices, but mobile offices had been a staple on construction sites since the 1960s.

Mobile offices are heavily used on construction sites in order to give management a place to conduct additional business while on-site.

The growth of technology paved the way for more and more businesses to use mobile offices, either as part of satellite offices or during building renovations or remodeling.

Many business industries use mobile offices, including:

  • Schools
  • Agriculture
  • Chemical/industrial
  • Oil & gas
  • Governments

Mobile offices can be customized to specific sizes, as well as features that work for a particular layout.


You might be surprised to learn that there are several hotels that have been made from shipping containers. We took a look at five of them recently, however there many more around the world.

What makes these buildings unique is not just their design, but the turnaround time for construction. For instance, a Travelodge in London only took 20 days to complete.

Studio 6 Shipping Container Hotel

And Travelodge isn’t the only large hotel chain that’s looked to using shipping containers as part of their design. Studio 6, Holiday Inn, and others have begun to build with containers.


Like hotels, restaurants have used shipping containers to create unique and creative designs.

Like El Rey Taqueria & Mexican Beer Garden, which features a retractable, transparent roof. The bar was made with 11 shipping containers and is just one in a series of container restaurants in DC.

And single restaurants aren’t the only things. Many food courts or marketplaces have also been made from recycling shipping containers.

These include Toronto’s Market 707 and China’s Beitang Container Restaurant Project.

Beitang Container Restaurant Project

Pop Up Shops

In 2012, Starbucks opened their first coffee shop made from a recycled shipping container. This was part of the company’s initiative to encourage green building.

Over the last few years, pop up shops – temporary storefront spaces – have become increasingly popular, especially for online stores.

But these aren’t just for online merchants; they can be used by any business. Pop up shops can be a great way to present merchandise or expand into a storeroom.

This idea was first presented by the Insbrandsten Company back in 1962.

Custom Pop Up Shipping Container


At the time of this writing, the world is currently battling the coronavirus outbreak.

Normal activities at hospitals, urgent cares, and other medical facilities have been compounded due to the influx of potential or critical cases of COVID-19.

Many hospitals have been scrambling to find beds and ICU rooms. In response, companies have turned to shipping containers in order to help hospitals expand.

BUILD COVID clinic on truck

These containers are being turned into ICU rooms to help assist in treatment. They are also being used a testing facilities, to help with the flow of potential cases and available testing.

In this article, we explored how shipping containers became used as other things. Shipping containers began as transport alternative, bringing a more efficient way to ship.

Now, they can be used for all types of projects, from schools to storage and from hotels to hospitals. Shipping containers have shown just how versatile they can be.

If you’re looking to use a shipping container for your project, give our storage container experts a call at 800.686.9114. We can help you choose the right container for your needs.