The History of Shipping Container Homes

When Malcolm McLean invented shipping containers in 1956, he was trying to help with international shipping. He most likely did not think that these containers would become anything more than what he intended them for. Shipping containers have become increasingly popular in recent years, for a wide range of uses, including schools and homes. But where did the trend for building homes out of shipping containers start?

The first official record of a shipping container home was in November 1987, owned by a man named Phillip Clark. He had filed a patent for the “method for converting one or more steel shipping containers into a habitable building.” In his patent he covered how shipping containers could be modified to be turned into living quarters; two years later his patent was approved. Clark was not the first person to come up with the idea, he was just the first on official records.

Two years before Clark’s patent, in 1985, the set of the movie Space Rage had several buildings made from shipping containers.

In the 1970s in the UK, an architect wrote his thesis on the concept of converting old shipping containers into homes. He later built a few buildings out of containers, which are still standing today.

In 1994, Stewart Brand wrote a book about converting shipping containers into office spaces. “How Buildings Learn” was the first publication to mention converting containers into buildings. This is where the shipping container homes trend began to truly gain momentum.

The first building to be fully comprised of shipping containers was The Simon’s Town High School Hostel, which was completed in 1998. It is capable of housing up to 120 people comfortably at any given time.

The first shipping container home built in the US was completed in 2007 by Peter DeMaria, an architect from California.

The trend for shipping container homes began to grow in 2012 when Todd and Di Miller, from Australia, lost them home in a flood. The couple decided to build their new home out of shipping containers, creating the 6,000 square foot mansion called Graceville Container House; it took 31 containers to build their home. After it was featured on television, people saw how versatile a shipping container home could be, and from there the trend gained popularity.

Since then the trend has continued and flourished into what we see today. The architecture has grown increasingly creative over the years and seeing containers as homes and other buildings had become more and more common.

The tiny home movement was also a major boon to the shipping container home industry. The popular shows “Tiny House, Big Living” and “Tiny House Hunters” that aired in 2014 highlighted how easy and affordable it is to convert a container into a tiny home.

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