Shipping Containers Find New Life in Metal Construction

Monterrey Technical University - Student Center
Student Center, Monterrey Technical University, Juarez, Mexico

By: John Ryan, Metal Construction Association

Fortune Magazine recently featured a story about Starbucks’ use of shipping containers in the design of their new drive-through coffee shops. According to Fortune, a good portion of the 900 or so drive-through locations that Starbucks plans to build in the next five years will be made using retrofitted metal shipping containers.

The use and repurposing of metal shipping containers in construction is a growing trend, even though they are not always less expensive than other manufacturing methods.  And re-using a metal shipping container that would otherwise be destined for the scrap heap can make a statement about sustainability, especially when used with other “green” building efficiencies.

MCA’s 2012 Chairman’s Award Winner in the Education-Colleges & Universities category is a creative example of how shipping containers can be used in construction. The project, a student center for Monterrey Technical University in Juarez, Mexico, was designed by Ruben Escobar, a graduate of MTU and principle at the architecture firm Grupo ARKHOS.

Monterrey Technical University 1 WEBThe student center uses 14 metal shipping containers to make a 7,000 sq. ft. space for students to  interact socially. With exposed metal making up 80% of the new building’s structure, Escobar integrated a metal skin composed of Reynobond composite aluminum panels around the building’s entrance. The 4-mm panels from Alcoa Architectural Products proved to be a perfect complement to the shipping containers, and also were chosen for their durability.Monterrey Technical University 2 WEB

Not only is the new building constructed primarily of recycled materials, but it also is designed to keep cooling costs low. An outdoor paint scheme that uses automotive paint mixed with ceramic nanospheres helps repel the desert sun’s rays, and  a series of aluminum and glass garage doors open up to provide natural ventilation about 8 months out of the year.

It is estimated that there are more than 17 million shipping containers in the world today. Because the United States imports far more than it exports, there is a surplus of empty shipping containers in this country. Metal shipping container-inspired architecture is just one way to give new life and purpose to these resources.

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