The U.K.'s solution for affordable housing? Shipping containers.

"Cargotecture" is becoming increasingly popular as a cheap alternative to traditional houses.

  • The U.K. firm Fraser Brown MacKenna Architects recently obtained approval to construct a number of affordable shipping container houses.
  • Shipping container homes are surprisingly popular across the globe and can be found in Amsterdam and the U.S.
  • A number of firms are available that can build custom shipping container homes, but they're also more straightforward to build yourself than a traditional house.


The humble shipping container is finding new life in the U.K., where Fraser Brown MacKenna Architects has obtained approval to construct a series of homes out of the ubiquitous containers. This "cargotecture" project is aimed at providing cheap, social housing using recycled materials.

These microhomes will have a kitchen and living room in the front and a private bed and bathroom in the back, with a deck at either end. The top of the containers will be covered with sedum, a kind of succulent with shallow root systems and minimal watering requirements, which make them ideal for green roofs. To account for the draftiness of shipping containers, each home will be insulated along the roof, walls, and floor, and double-glazing will be applied to either end.

The buildings will be constructed for social rent, a practice where rents are tied to local incomes and housing costs. Social rental properties, in general, are much needed in the U.K., where the construction of such properties has dropped by 80 percent in the past decade while more than 1 million families are stuck on waiting lists for social rental properties. Worse, nearly 1 in 200 people in Britain — roughly 320,000 — are homeless according to a 2018 report.

Compared to privately rented buildings, social housing is significantly cheaper. While the average one-bedroom apartment rents for £600 a month (roughly $730), a one-bedroom social rental goes for a little over £300 (~$365).

Better living through steel boxes

Photo credit: Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

Shipping containers are an appealing construction material for social housing since they're so much cheaper compared to the costs of labor and materials needed to build a more traditional home. Although prices can vary depending on the square footage and the nature of the construction, a shipping container home can easily cost less than £82,400, or about $100,000. In contrast, the average cost of building a house is around £238,900, or $290,000. Not only that, but they're modular, durable, easy to transport, and save thousands of kilograms of steel from going to waste (about 3,500 kg, to be exact, or about 7,700 lbs). But they're not without their downsides, as well.

Steel is an excellent conductor, meaning that shipping container homes can easily turn into an oven or an icebox depending on the weather. What's more, the chemicals from a container's paint and sealants and from spills of its previous contents can be harmful.

Despite this, shipping container homes are quite popular in the U.K. REACH Homes, a community interest company, is planning to build 600 shipping container homes in Sheffield — each costing as little as £35,000 (~$42,500). In Bristol, the Help Bristol's Homeless charity has constructed shipping containers to help the local homeless population. Of course, shipping containers aren't just being used to provide affordable housing or to help the homeless; the world's tallest shipping container building is scheduled to be constructed in London.

Admittedly, it's only nine stories high — not very tall for anything that could be considered the "world's tallest blank" — but it's still an impressive project.

Other shipping container homes

A block of shipping container apartments in Amsterdam. Image source: Shutterstock

While the practice of building homes with shipping containers appears to be on the rise in the U.K., many other parts of the world are already on board. Notably, Amsterdam has a number of shipping container buildings, including student housing, apartment complexes, and markets. Atlanta, Georgia, also has a several shipping container homes built by a developer inspired by the cargotecture he saw in Europe.

If you're jonesing for your own shipping container home, a number of companies have sprung up to meet the demand, such as Backcountry Containers and Honomobo. There's even a thriving community for the DIY-minded with information on how to build your own shipping container home (though you'll probably have to convince your local building authority to get the permits).

Befriend your ideological opposite. It’s fun.

Step inside the unlikely friendship of a former ACLU president and an ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia were unlikely friends. They debated each other at events all over the world, and because of that developed a deep and rewarding friendship – despite their immense differences.
  • Scalia, a famous conservative, was invited to circles that were not his "home territory", such as the ACLU, to debate his views. Here, Strossen expresses her gratitude and respect for his commitment to the exchange of ideas.
  • "It's really sad that people seem to think that if you disagree with somebody on some issues you can't be mutually respectful, you can't enjoy each other's company, you can't learn from each other and grow in yourself," says Strossen.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Keep reading Show less

Physicists find new state of matter that can supercharge technology

Scientists make an important discovery for the future of computing.

Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • Researchers find a new state of matter called "topological superconductivity".
  • The state can lead to important advancements in quantum computing.
  • Utilizing special particles that emerge during this state can lead to error-free data storage and blazing calculation speed.
Keep reading Show less

Physicist advances a radical theory of gravity

Erik Verlinde has been compared to Einstein for completely rethinking the nature of gravity.

Photo by Willeke Duijvekam
Surprising Science
  • The Dutch physicist Erik Verlinde's hypothesis describes gravity as an "emergent" force not fundamental.
  • The scientist thinks his ideas describe the universe better than existing models, without resorting to "dark matter".
  • While some question his previous papers, Verlinde is reworking his ideas as a full-fledged theory.
Keep reading Show less

How to heal trauma with meaning: A case study in emotional evolution

As tempting as it may be to run away from emotionally-difficult situations, it's important we confront them head-on.

Videos
  • Impossible-sounding things are possible in hospitals — however, there are times when we hit dead ends. In these moments, it's important to not run away, but to confront what's happening head-on.
  • For a lot of us, one of the ways to give meaning to terrible moments is to see what you can learn from them.
  • Sometimes certain information can "flood" us in ways that aren't helpful, and it's important to figure out what types of data you are able to take in — process — at certain times.
Keep reading Show less