Williams Scotsman

Creative Uses for Modular Containers

What image first comes to mind when you think about modular units? Perhaps you envision portable storage containers used to house valuable equipment and supplies. Or maybe you picture colorful cargo containers that carry goods across the seas. But did you know that modular containers can be used for a variety of creative purposes? Many of these units also have life beyond their intended use. One reason is that reusing containers is a more environmentally-friendly option than scrapping or melting them down once they’ve served their original purpose.

Architects, designers and planners have been finding inventive ways to use containers as structural elements for decades. According to Places Journal, the “container urbanism” trend began in the 1960s and experienced a resurgence with the new millennium: 

“Instead of attempting to construct an ideal and self-contained urban ensemble, container urbanisms are learning to make use of existing infrastructure and disused industrial artifacts, like the shipping box — fostering a vision of the city as fresh as the latest tweet and as august as a caravan marketplace.”

Here are just a few inspiring ways modular containers are being used and reused around the globe:


Last year, Yoav Messer Architects proposed their 525-feet long Econtainer Bridge, a bridge made from recycled shipping containers that will connect Lod Road to the Arial Sharon National Park in Tel Aviv, Israel. The bridge can support pedestrian and light vehicle traffic, including bicycles and shuttles.


“Casa Oruga” is what Sebastian Irarrazaval calls the home he designed using shipping containers. The house allows light and external air in from both sides, saving on energy that would be spent on air conditioning in the heat of Chile. In Norway, two students at the University of Stavanger proposed using modular units to solve the student housing crisis in the country. The shipping containers were outfitted with kitchens, bedrooms and more. Shipping containers aren’t the only units being reused for other purposes: Los Angeles County-based architecture firm research+upcycle used retired portable classrooms to create “low-cost but high-style” homes in California.


The Costa Mesa Waldorf School in California is made from 32 recycled shipping containers. Constructed in less than 100 days, the buildings serve as classrooms, a science lab, a student lounge and more. 


Starting in 2010, Boston-based FreightFarms began buying and refurbishing unused refrigeration containers to create complete hydroponic indoor farms. Each FreightFarm can produce hundreds of heads of lettuce or other greens every week, all year long and in any location. The FreightFarm at Boston Latin School enables students to grow fresh produce throughout the year.


In New Jersey, shipping containers are being used as stores along the Jersey Shore. From peddling ice cream to selling art, these containers have been modified to effectively serve retailing needs. Some shipping containers have even been transformed into entire malls, like this one in New Zealand. In South Africa, a retail center made of 27 shipping containers opened last year. 

Humanitarian Crises 

In Hawaii, the homelessness crisis is being combated by the Hale Mauliola Housing Navigation Service Center, made entirely out of retrofitted shipping containers and sheltering up to 90 people at a time. To help alleviate the refugee crisis in Europe, WillScot’s parent company Algeco Scotsman (AS) is using modular units to create safe and clean accommodations for thousands in Germany. AS will offer its rental units configured as short-term stay facilities for asylum-seekers and/or a full turn-key village including catering, leisure, hospitals, schools, etc.

Modular units have a range of uses and reuses that stretch far beyond traditional applications. How would you use or repurpose a modular unit creatively?

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