The benefits of using shipping containers in modern methods of construction

by Paul Thorpe | September 1, 2023 | 3 min read

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At BIM Academy we are increasingly deploying our modern methods of construction (MMC) consultancy services on projects using non standard construction materials. With bold creativity from designers, open mindedness approaches from clients, and positive planning approvals, alternative construction materials are opening up a new world of possibilities.

One such offsite construction method growing in popularity is the use of shipping containers.

Globally, the construction industry is rapidly shifting towards implementing more sustainable solutions and shipping container are an excellent choice in the repurposing of materials and reducing waste.

Typically shipping containers are low maintenance, and perfect for creative conversions with fast construction turn around times. As the steel framework is already completed, constructing from shipping containers can be relatively straightforward. This minimises time on site, resulting in not only reducing carbon emissions but reducing overall project costs.

These types of units can also be modified quite easily, with customised window and door frames, bespoke electrical installations, solar systems and much more.

One such project we advised on recently for our sister company, Ryder Architecture was on a new hotel in London, UK.  This £3million, 500sqm project saw the development of a 20 room, five storey, modular development within a conservation area. Therefore the use of sustainable materials and construction methods was paramount.

A challenge within this project was that the structure also needed to be temporary, so that it could be relocated at the end of the clients lease of the land. Another reason why shipping containers were selected for the build was that their modular design meant they could be disassembled at any time.

The design of the hotel utilised 25, 30ft High Cube containers that had reached their end of life in the shipping industry. The design required the containers to be stacked five by five, with the lower five opening out and used as a wine bar.

Each container on the floors above formed their own room and were constructed as if they were an individual building. Extensive research was undertaken to ensure that each room meet the appropriate building regulations and environmental standards to comply with the conservation area requirements.

In addition, to meeting acoustic requirements, the rooms were designed as ‘a box within a box’. A free standing timber subframe was also acoustically isolated from the rest of the container at the floor level, and the steel lining of the containers were sprayed with Polyisocyanurate foam (PIR) for insulation, before being fire lined and clad in fire retardant plywood.

The containers are in essence a monocoque construction, meaning that the entire external skin formed a structural, stress bearing shell. An internal steel box frame was therefore installed to strengthen the containers where panels were removed for installation of the windows and doors.

A specialised connection plate was developed so that the plate and self weight of the containers were sufficient to transfer both horizontal and vertical loads without the need for any mechanical fixings.

The innovative design and the careful planning of this project created a high level of circularity, saving on scarce resources and reducing the whole life embodied carbon of the development.

The use of recycled containers from the shipping industry on this project generated both cost and carbon savings due to a large reduction in raw material requirements.

Repurposing old shipping containers for construction projects removes the need for new resources, limits the carbon emissions and saves the container from degrading into the environment, hence reducing material waste.

To find out more about our MMC services, contact Paul Thorpe directly at: [email protected]

About the author

Paul Thorpe

Director, BIM Academy

Paul is experienced in managing the digital delivery of large scale construction and infrastructure projects across the globe. Paul joined the BIM Academy team on his return to the UK after living and working in Hong Kong for several years.

Paul has specialisms in information management, BIM execution, digital twin development and delivery, and digital transformation. Paul is a Project Management Professional with the Project Management Institute (PMI) and a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB).

With a proven ability to build and lead high performing teams across major projects, Paul brings his experience in developing digital business plans and executing company wide digital strategies to BIM Academy.