The fine art of shipping container building design is sweeping the housing market, with its cost effectiveness and simplified construction process inspiring building designers and clients to find new ways to morph cargo units into residences.

This building phenomenon is the subject of the new hit book The Container Atlas, by Han Slawik, Julia Bergmann and Matthias Buchmeier.

This book displays and demonstrates the recontextualisation of shipping containers in building design through a rich visual showcase of shipping container projects, and serves as a practical manual for laypeople and professionals interested in this topic.

In 2006, architect Peter DeMaria designed the premiere dual-story shipping container residence in the United States as an approved structural system in adherence with the stringent guidelines of the nationally recognised Uniform Building Code. This took place 17 years following the granting of the patent, the diagrams for which were filed at first by Phillip C. Clark in 1987, providing the inspiration for innovative pioneers like DeMaria.

Some call this mode of design the Cargo Container Architecture, others call it Container Urbanism. It is without a doubt an affordable alternative to conventional housing. Yet is it sustainable?

Well in fact, it requires more energy than one would think to turn a group of shipping containers into a livable home. These residences do leave a footprint, especially as some of their exterior coatings contain toxic chemicals like chromate, phosphorous, and lead-based paints. Plus the wood floors lining most shipping container buildings are laden with hazardous chemical pesticides such as arsenic and chromium.

Also figuring into the equation is the energy needed to sandblast and replace unit floors, and the fossil fuels needed to transport the container with heavy machinery.

Of course there is always something to be said for recycling anything, homes included; but while considering the option of livable containers, one also might consider the construction of a wood-framed structure of similar scale. Regardless of one’s choice, there’s always room for innovation in building design.