Each year, as many as 15 million shipping containers enter US ports, carrying everything from jeans to corn chips, auto parts to stuffed animals. But these metal boxes are also taking on a life of their own, far away from the massive cargo ships, in a story of sustainability, imagination and innovation.
Take the DeKalb Market near Brooklyn, for instance. A thriving public space featuring 22 restaurants, shops, and an internet radio station housed in colorful discarded shipping containers, the space bustles with energy and solves a critical issue of scarcity of space in the area.
Containers are also being converted to homes. In the Japanese disaster zone, container homes are providing safe, comfortable and affordable temporary housing. In Amsterdam, a container building houses 1,000 students. In London, there’s a whole Container City neighborhood, featuring residential spaces as well as artist studios. And there’s a growing market for container vacation homes. One architect in New Jersey who specializes in custom container homes – with as much as 2,000 square feet, three bedrooms and 2.5 baths – has a six month wait list.
These small spaces, some as small as 480 square feet, can be easily transformed into beautiful, thoroughly modern, comfortable, efficient living and working areas. Plus, think about it, they can be transported to wherever they’re wanted or needed. Imagine having a vacation home that can be shipped from Prince Edward Island to Big Sur without any damage.
Or consider the commercial applications. Coffee company illy commissioned a shipping container store called the push button house. It unfolds in 90 seconds to reveal a beautiful interior featuring a kitchen, dining area, bedroom, living room and library. These easily transportable spaces can be used to house traveling or temporary employees. Or mobile offices. Or, well, the possibilities are endless…
And to think, all these spaces started from something that was discarded. It’s an important reminder to those of us in the sustainability space. We must continue to look around and critically examine our surroundings, consciously reinventing and re-imagining what’s already here to solve the issues of the day. To look not only at discarded things, but also at ideas we’ve previously abandoned, in a new light, in today’s new context, and create something innovative by building on a simple foundation. It’s the second R – re-use – and it just might be the most powerful, impactful way to create sustainable innovation.