Shipping Containers to Become Condos in Detroit

The first U.S. multi-family condo built of used shipping containers is slated to break ground in Detroit early next year.

Strong, durable and portable, shipping containers stack easily and link together like Legos. About 25 million of these 20-by-40 feet multicolored boxes move through U.S. container ports a year, hauling children's toys, flat-screen TVs, computers, car parts, sneakers and sweaters.

But so much travel takes its toll, and eventually the containers wear out and are retired. That's when architects and designers, especially those with a "green" bent, step in to turn these cast-off boxes into student housing in Amsterdam, artists' studios, emergency shelters, health clinics, office buildings.

Despite an oft-reported glut of unused cargo containers lying idle around U.S. ports and ship yards - estimates have ranged from 700,000 to 2 million - the Intermodal Steel Building Units and Container Homes Association puts the number closer to 12,000, including what's sold on Craigslist and eBay.

Joel Egan, co-founder of HyBrid Architecture in Seattle, which has built cottages and office buildings from shipping containers for close to a decade and coined the term " cargotecture" to describe this method of construction, warns that although containers can be bought for as little as $2,500, they shouldn't be seen as a low-cost housing solution.

"Ninety-five percent of the cost still remains," he says.

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