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A Tower Of Shipping Containers That Can Reshape Itself In A Disaster

This Jenga-like design could make it easier to quickly build housing, office space, and even makeshift hotels after a disaster.

Over a decade, the average shipping container may travel over 2 million miles, or more than 80 times around the world. Containers are designed to move. But when they’re retired, those that escape the scrapyard often end up being recycled into immobile architecture. A new design concept rethinks the typical container-made building: Why not take advantage of the fact that containers are easy to move?

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The design, from Hong Kong-based OVA Studio, features a Jenga-like tower of containers, each slotted in and out of a metal frame that keeps everything stable. As the need for space fluctuates, containers can be added or taken away. The designers imagine that the structure could be used to provide emergency housing and offices after disasters, or for pop-up hotels.


“Containers are designed to be stackable on one another, like Legos, to facilitate transportation and insure stability,” explains Slimane Ouahes, director of OVA. “Usually, container buildings use this to easily and quickly put up a building, but that immobilizes the container in a final resting place. We wanted to keep the true nature of containers alive: Containers are mobile, containers travel.”

In a disaster, units for housing, medical services, schools, or government agency offices might be quickly shipped to a site and slotted into place. Each container could be fully built off-site, so construction wouldn’t disturb current residents. As needs change, containers could easily come and go.

An insert under each container hooks the unit up with electricity, partially generated from the building’s waste, and water. The insert even supplies soil for growing a small kitchen garden. If a container is taken out, the designers say that a little bit of nature can come back: The exposed soil can be used to grow wildflowers and support bees.


OVA originally created the Hive-Inn concept as an entry in the Radical Innovation Awards, a contest that looks at new approaches to hotel design. “It created this interesting paradox in which hotel rooms can come to you,” says Ouahes. “They can also travel with you, or you can travel to them. The building can also change overnight, adapt, and create surprise.”

A new room could be constructed off-site and then quickly popped into place. Since the hospitality business tends to be seasonal in many locations, the hotel could easily respond to fluctuations in demand. To help hotel owners increase revenue, the designers suggest adding colorful ads to each container.

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For now, the design is just a concept, but the architects hope to find partners to make it real.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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