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Upcycling – Turning Shipping Containers Into Creatively Designed, Eco-Friendly Homes

top_of_the_lake - shipping containers
publicity still from “Top of the Lake”

Many praise-worthy adjectives can describe the New Zealand-set mini-series “Top of the Lake,” starring Elisabeth Moss and Holly Hunter, but fans will agree the atmospheric ambiance was further enhanced by the stunning design of Hunter’s guru’s “Paradise” encampment, which featured a colorful, practical and impressive array of shipping-container living facilities. With one converted shipping container perched, at an angle, above another, “Paradise” appeared a creative and ready-made housing development.


Affordable and readily available, both new and second-(or third or fourth) hand shipping containers for sale in Sydney, New York, and other cities are the embodiment – and wonder – of the home-building universe. Clearly, decommissioned shipping containers can provide ready and practical housing for the poor – that is undeniable. But architectural-forward builders have transformed what was once a world-connecting heavy-metal storage box into some of the most astonishing living facilities. Shipping container dwellings are trending, unquestionably. Prepare to be amazed and astonished.

In addition to providing the obvious necessity of linking ocean-separated countries, shipping containers can no longer be just considered a giant mental box. Containers have long progressed from the bailiwick of “tree-huggers,” to decidedly eco-friendly and energy-efficient dwellings, heralded for sustainability, flexibility, affordability, and quick construction time. Depending on the design, a home can be put up in as little as hours.

Pre-Fabrication = Quick Turnaround

Many dwellings can be constructed/built off-site, with prefabrication techniques applied. This means, the basic structure, interiors and insulation are complete when taken to the destination. explains, “Approximately 30 million steel shipping containers are in existence, filled and floating, or standing about empty in a port. Eight feet wide by 8.5 feet high, and either 20 or 40 feet long, the steel shipping-container has been the globally standardized transportation module since 1956. Costs of shipping empty containers back to their origin are high, so oft times the containers sit unused in ports.”


While it of course depends on where you live, a recycled 20-foot container can cost approximately 490 (GBP), while a large, new container sells for 133,000 (GBP) and above.

Choosing a shipping container home, guesthouse or office is a win-win situation. If you opt for a recycled container, you’re keeping it out of the waste stream, saving time and money, being energy efficient and design forward.

Defying Gravity

A shipping container can also be incorporated into one of the latest, most popular design aesthetics: a gravity-defying home. Cue: Aerosmith/Steven Tyler’s “Living on the Edge,” because architecturally significant these days translates to architecturally unique.

Gravity-defying no longer refers to cliff-side homes with beautiful views. Think, if you will, of the incongruously named “The Burrow,” the home of the Weasleys of “Harry Potter’s” world, an easily identified example of a gravity-defying house. Despite “The Burrow’s” place in a magical cinematic world, there are real-life equivalents. Today, there are adult tree houses, houses built a la “Alice in Wonderland” (i.e. upside down, and yes, there is one, in Poland), built on stick-like stilts, and more.

Renowned Gravity-Defying Homes

  • Free Spirit Spheres” in British Columbia, Canada look like giant round wooden ornaments, hung from a solid surface, accessed through a spiral staircase or suspension bridge.
  • In the Netherlands, there’s a tilted cube house, tipped 45-degrees on a hexagon-shaped pole – three sides face down and three face the sky.
  • A German home, dubbed the Heliotrope Rotating House, is circular, solar-powered, and rotates towards the sun on a large spindle-like entrance.
  • Habitat 67 is composed of Montreal apartments built without traditional vertical construction and stacked like Legos.
  • Polish architects designed Single Hausz, a home supported on a pole that can be built on only a few feet of land.


An architect’s dilemma of limitations in home design is now officially obsolete – with storage containers and innovations in gravity-defying homes readily available to the average home owner, it is possible to be creative and green, a great way to be.

Clay Miller
the authorClay Miller
I am the creator/writer of and I'm an advocate for oceans, beaches, state parks. I enjoy all things outdoors (e.g. running, golf, gardening, hiking, etc.) I am a graduate of the University of Kentucky (Go Wildcats!!). I'm also a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was born and raised in the beautiful state of Kentucky.

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