Answering a double need, for cheap buildings and a use for the huge surplus of shipping containers, container architecture is going mainstream.


The twin spires of Granary Row. Photos by Adam Finkle.

You don't expect corporate America to set a greening trend. But the Starbucks drive-through in South Salt Lake (3300 S. West Temple), is the third location in the nation built from recycled shipping containers. It would look at home at Granary Row, an experiment in urbanism that stretched along the center strip of 700 South between 300 West and 400 West last summer. Granary Row demonstrated a sustainable option for revitalizing Salt Lake City’s industrial west side. (The units have been stored to be reused when Granary Row reopens again spring. ) The Row included a performance stage, pop-up retail shops, galleries and a beer garden. Nearly everything was housed in recycled containers.

Community advocates promote Granary Row as a glimpse of a sustainable inner-city design—walkable, affordable and innovative. Using shipping containers just made sense for James Alfandre, executive director of the Kentlands Initiative, a nonprofit urban planning group. “All in all, with buying these and building them out, it was $10,000 per unit. We sourced them locally, had them here in a day and rehabbed them within a week.” 

As an inanimate object, a shipping container has a fairly appealing life—traveling the world over, by land and sea, packed with exotic wares. However, after two decades, most are laid to rest—and rust.

Jeff White, a designer, contractor, realtor and handyman is among several Utah-based developers who are modifying shipping containers into affordable, green-minded housing and commercial spaces for so-called micro venture businesses.

“This isn’t for everyone,” he says. “It’s something for green-minded people, those of us—55 percent of Americans—living by themselves and for [housing] the underserved in our community.”

These small shipping container dwellings will sell for $135,000 to $150,000, White says, which stands in stark contrast to LEED-certified homes ranging from $400,000 to $600,000. White looks to the future of green architecture, and he sees the viability of modular construction with shipping container homes to save money and as temporary housing in disaster relief situations. He hopes for varied uses for the structures throughout the city as public restrooms in public spaces like parks, along with commercial projects like Granary Row.

With the wheels rolling on this green architecture trend, the low cost of entry and local expertise on the rise, this sustainable innovation will be around longer than the typical 20-year “useful” life of a shipping container. 

Back>>>Read about other local inventions.

Back>>>Read other stories in our Jan/Feb 2014 issue.