Will Shipping Containers be the Next Big CRE Architecture Trend?


The cost to destroy large shipping containers is exorbitant. Instead, they tend to linger in ports, rusting away – that is until now. Some out-of-the-box thinking has found a new use for these monstrosities; turning them into livable spaces. The idea of converting shipping containers into homes, offices, and multi-family developments could be the next big CRE architecture trend.

Residential Shipping Container Construction is Trending

Shipping containers are abundant sources of steel. According to one estimate, there are 30 million of these containers around the globe that are either in use or wasting away in a port. This movement got its start overseas, but the shipping container trend has come to America. Instead of being one-offs built out in the countryside of Australia, shipping container construction is now happening in cities around the world.

There’s a million dollar shipping container home in the Hamptons and a Bay Area shipping container innovator creates 160’ tiny houses out of shipping containers, combining two unique real estate trends. He only spends $10K to create one unit and is able to recoup his investment by renting it out for as little as $40 per night. But it is the 20 and 30 container mansions being built out of shipping containers that is catching the eye of CRE developers and designers.

Shipping Containers Offer Exciting Opportunities for Multi-Family Developments

Shipping container construction first and foremost is cheap. It cuts the construction costs of building prefabricated homes by an estimated 15% in half the time. The implications for mass producing units this cost effective are attracting CRE developers and architects in the multi-family sector.

A South Korean architect took 200 used shipping containers and converted them into a shopping mall. Now he’s experimenting with building multi-family apartments in Seoul to help overcome problems with overcrowding and a lack of residential space.

The same is happening in Oakland, CA where a shipping container entrepreneur is hoping to help solve the homelessness problem by creating shipping container villages. He also sees opportunities to solve the problems being created by the outrageous spike in rent prices in the Bay Area. The idea of buying a home for between $10K and $50K can appeal to a growing number of dissatisfied renters and homeowners in Southern California.

Zoning Rules are Hindering the Shipping Container Trend

So far, the biggest hurdle these innovators face is dealing with zoning laws that are not equipped to deal with the idea of using shipping containers as livable spaces. Also, trying to get the permits to build in residential areas is often expensive and time consuming, taking years for approval.

One way to get around this problem is by using the units as spaces within a structure instead of standalone homes. At the same time, those in the shipping container construction industry are petitioning their cities to revisit current zoning and permitting laws to allow construction to move forward.

How Big Will this Trend Get?

You can imagine, as many developers and architects are, how big this trend could get. If demand grows for multi-family shipping container units, it is likely that the CRE industry will start to think of other uses for these containers like for unique office space and warehousing. It appears that only red tape stands in the way of a trend that could bring a lot of benefits to communities across the country.