shipping containers

We can, but should we?

Is there no end to the number of shipping container homes popping up all over the internet almost daily? Who ISN’T building one of these things! Stop it, people! I’m serious. Before you fire up the blow torch to cut out a few window openings, take a few moments to really think about what you’re about to do. Consider:

1. You are not a commodity

You are not cargo, you are a human being. You, dear reader, are not a carton, crate, package or pallet. You are not meant to be stacked, crammed, stuffed or laded. You are not a commodity. You are unique (valuable!) and your life matters. You deserve better.

2. Settling for less

It’s a steel box. What does a corrugated steel box have to do with human dwelling, in the qualitative sense? As designers we have at our disposal a nearly infinite variety of materials and the capability to design meaningful, satisfying, yes truly fulfilling space, space that can show us the world in new ways, even poetically, penetrating to the depths of our soul. “No really, that’s okay, we’ll choose the steel box.”

3. Poor proportions

The proportions are all wrong. The interior height of a standard container is 7′-9″, and that’s before subtracting for ceiling and floor finishes. A high-cube is only slightly better at 8′-9″. Standard interior width comes in at 7′-8″, just beyond the fingertips of your outstretched arms, not much more than a hallway. To really thrive in a space, (yes, thrive!) give yourself a little more breathing room, people.

4. Overgrown craft projects

Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. Shipping container homes are the crafts project of the architecture and design profession. “Hey, let’s take this cardboard box and some hot glue and make it into some lovely bedroom furniture”. Don’t fool yourself, it’s a box; just recycle it. Cut and paste as much as you want but in the end a shipping container is still only a decorated box.

5. No connection to the earth

It’s an object on the landscape. Dwelling in the true sense of the word will always express our relationship with the earth itself. If we live in a box on top of the earth, never engaging the ground plane, we will never see ourselves as belonging to the earth. Our bodies are literally made of the same elements as the earth. How will we ever respect and care for the earth sustainably if we consider ourselves somehow separate from it?

6. What’s the use?

There are other better uses for shipping containers. For instance, oh I don’t know… transporting things from one place to another? Securely storing stuff? These things are purpose built for a specific use. Let’s not try to cram our precious lives into a steel box meant for a purely utilitarian function.

A good way to travel

On the other hand it doesn’t hurt to always be ready to go if, on the off chance, a gigantic crane one day magically appears in the sky with a promise to transport you happily ever after to a land far, far away. You can always hope.

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2 Responses to 6 good reasons NOT to build shipping container homes

  1. Interested Reader says:

    Shipping containers make great cabins at bible camps! Don’t rule them out. I’m sure any camp would love to have them.

  2. Amen! When I first saw a container building about 10 years ago (, I thought it was a neat idea. (and to their credit, the fact that it is shippable, was still a requirement of the building).

    I’m not sure when the trend of “recycling shipping containers into homes” really started, but it appears to be on the rise. I realized that the container is just a gimmick. People find it fun and interesting, the container home is the talk of the town, but when it comes to choosing such a building as a home, I doubt that many would pick it, and you laid out the reasons for it perfectly.

    I also question the economics of it, which appears to be one of the main drivers of its popularity. A $3000 metal box does not translate into an inexpensive nor healthy building.

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