• MGMUS

Repurposed, Not Reimagined:The Statement of Shipping-Container Architecture


If you find yourself at the Port of London and you wander into the neighborhood of Leamouth, you may find yourself wondering whether or not you have wandered out of the residential section of the city. In fact, you may wonder if you have wandered past Leamouth – a fair thing to wonder, looking up at the city-block made out of shipping containers, repurposed but not redesigned. Here, shipping containers have become offices and homes, and yet if you were to miss the residents’ potted dracaena or well-trimmed calatheas, you may mistake the shipping containers for nothing more than shipping containers.

Leamouth is an extreme example of shipping-container architecture, the developers making no attempt to obfuscate the origins of the offices and homes. Instead, they have embraced the shipping container look and embraced what repurposed shipping containers say about them, their architectural sensibilities, and their responsibility to the world. By repurposing shipping containers, the people of Leamouth are, of course, doing their part to combat environmental pollution and recycle industrial materials. They are not alone in their efforts, either: repurposed shipping containers, it would appear, are in vogue.


In Australia, mining firms have constructed walls at their mining sites, using no poured concrete. Instead, they have used shipping containers, making no attempt to hide their original form. At these sites, repurposed shipping containers and aggressive, economically healthy mining coexist. Throughout the former Soviet Republics as well, from Azerbaijan to Uzbekistan, shipping containers have become common fixtures at public markets, serving the role of costly prefabricated buildings or custom, standalone shops. For Australian mining firms and Azerbaijani grocers, the goal of repurposing shipping containers may be almost completely financial. Because they have led the way on this issue, though, repurposing shipping containers without attempting to hide what the shipping containers are, they have opened the door to a more environmentally friendly attitude – one that celebrates repurposed shipping containers, rather than viewing them as ugly, rather than eliminating their corrugated surfaces in favor of something a little sleeker.


Whether for affordability or style, the statement that a repurposed shipping container makes, when no one has tried to convince anyone else that the shipping-container-turned- house was always a house, is clear. The shipping container house that you could mistake for a house encourages others, tacitly, to repurpose shipping containers of their own. This architectural non-choice, the choice to embrace the shipping-container form as it is, then turns out to be the boldest choice of all.

Emblems of industrialization, shipping containers seem as starkly different as possible from the Doric and Ionic columns that have characterized popular architecture at other points in history. This is because the containers express practicality, nothing so abstract as other forms of architecture. On top of that, shipping-container architecture, in all its forms but especially when there is no effort to obscure the origins of the containers, raises up environmentalism, the significance clear: we can reclaim the planet. Every time that we use shipping containers for something new, rather than expending energy to have them melted down or burying them in a landfill somewhere, we are standing up for sustainability, responsibility, and all of the benefits that go with those principles.

At a time when we are up against great challenges, both economically and environmentally, repurposing shipping containers is an immediate strategy that we can adopt to build a more circular economy. After twenty years, whatever its condition, a shipping container exits use: it expires. Stick them into the soil or turn them into something new, that is the situation. The ingenuity that repurposed shipping containers represent could prove critical to sustainability across all industries, leading us into a future that is both aesthetically pleasing and socially responsible.


Top banner image:

"Container office, Dundee [Scotland]" by wikicommons user MainlyMazza, cropped for use under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License

Inset image:

"Bazar[sic]BuiltOutofShippingContainers"byPeterPartensky,croppedforuseunderthe Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike Generic 2.0 License