Did you know that the freight containers are the safest superstructure for a home, office, school, dormitory, storage unit or even an emergency shelter? I was pretty surprised yet more interested about the idea of recycling freight containers and their growing trend. My colleague Lauga Oskarsdottir published an article last year about this subject, with images of incredible container structures from around the world. Now let’s explore why their steel structures are ideal not only for transportation but also for shelter.

Freight containers are the strongest stationary structure in the world to withstand hurricanes, tornados, typhoons, and even earthquakes for many reasons. They are made of a special steel called “Corten Steel” which won’t rust and is extremely adaptive to the most efficient Eco insulation. According to statistics, about 18 million steel shipping containers are currently moving cargo on seas, roads and railways around the world. However at many ports, tons of them may be found stacked up due to a lack of outgoing cargo, particularly in nations like the United States, where imports outnumber exports. Therefore the interest began when the world realized that shipping containers were stalking up in the ports of every major city in the world. For example, in Amsterdam, Tempohousing was launched in 2002, a builder of student dormitories and other shipping container frame buildings, because of the need for affordable student housing.

In just a couple of years the rate of re-using shipping containers doubled. They are so easy to be re-used. They can be stacked, mixed, and matched like Legos, to create larger buildings of creative configuration. The containers are also super strong because they are designed to carry 30 tons of cargo while withstanding the rigors of sea travel.

The interior of a container is compact, but it can be surprisingly comfortable. When their service at sea is finished, a growing number of them are cleaned and refurbished with flooring, air conditioning, electricity, plumbing, and other modern conveniences. The standardized containers are 40 feet long by 8 feet wide by 8.5 feet high, though the 9.5-foot “high cubes” are especially favored to use as housing. Additionally, according to figures from a New York-based shipping container builder, fitting a container for housing use takes only one-twentieth the amount of energy of reprocessing the same amount of steel and results in an additional hundred years of lifetime, which I call a true recycling.

The result after a little work on the container is creative green housing that requires only a fraction of new construction’s energy and materials, hence it costs less as well. In Amsterdam, students have happily taken to dwelling in these unconventional new dorms built by Tempohousing. Thanks to their convenience, affordability, and friendly environmental footprint, a growing number of shipping containers will continue to make the journey from the seas to become the high-rises of affordable urban housing.