Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Can magic boxes solve urban housing conundrum?

By John Defterios, CNN
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Australian company is building homes out of disused shipping containers
  • Concept has already appeared in the Netherlands, the UK and South Africa
  • Shipping boxes offer environmental and cost advantages compared to traditional brick homes

One Square Meter explores the leading architectural designs, city plans and demand for property investment in emerging markets. Join CNN's John Defterios as he visits some of the world's most dynamic cities for an insight into the fast-paced world of real estate development.

(CNN) -- With its iconic Harbour Bridge and world-famous Opera House, Sydney is easily Australia's most recognizable city.

It's also a hot property market.

The country's low interest and mortgage rates have driven sales of affordable middle income housing in recent years.

But with demand so high there is barely enough stock to satisfy hungry homebuyers.

Now one company believes they have the solution that will both save space and keep city living cost effective -- shipping containers.

Metropolis redesigns L.A.'s skyline
Architectural spectacle transforms Seoul
From ghost town to eco-city

From its base in the town of Lismore, The Container Build Group is transforming the durable metal boxes into comfy homes that will eventually be transported to locations across Australia.

Building China's senior villages

According to Jamie Van Tongeren, the company's CEO, the concept provides a clean and productive way to provide affordable urban housing.

Shipping containers as homes have already appeared in various guises in the likes of the Netherlands, the UK, Sweden, the U.S. and South Africa.

"I started the business because I thought there was a need for affordable housing and a cleaner and greener option," Van Tongeren said.

"I'd seen (containers being used) overseas and I think it's something that needs to be done and I'm doing it."

So far, business for Van Tongeren has been brisk.

Annual turnover last year was over $1.5 million dollars and the company expects to double that going forward.

From $565 per square meter ($52 per sq ft) to $1,400 per square meter ($130 per sq ft), the cost of construction and overall sale price is lower than a brick building.

According to Van Tongeren, there are environmental and construction advantages as well.

"The ecological advantages of building with a container is the recycling of a container ... we try to use as many eco-friendly products as possible including solar composting toilets," he said.

"There's virtually no on-site work to build it so there is less use of tradesmen going to site and there's a lot of savings for the client like scaffolding, safety fences, portaloos all that stuff that you need to construct on site."

Given the time saved by excluding these processes, a house can be built from scratch in as little as three weeks.

Windows are cut out, containers are welded together and stacked on top of each other to provide multiple floors and rooms while insulation panels are installed to contain heat.

Clients can also personalize the design to give their new abode a bespoke feel.

Many still doubt whether people will want to live in recycled steel boxes, but with more than 34 million shipping containers either in use or lying dormant around the world, an increasing number of architects are aware of the possibilities they provide.

Read: The world's first 3D printed house

Read: Rise and rise of the McMansion

Read: Could micro-homes provide big solution

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 0946 GMT (1746 HKT)
The city has found a novel way to revive depressed neighborhoods.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1433 GMT (2233 HKT)
CNN's John Defterios explores how Japan is transforming abandoned factories into soil-less hydroponic vegetable farms.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 0308 GMT (1108 HKT)
Brazil might be viewed as booming emerging market, but with growth has come problems.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1352 GMT (2152 HKT)
CNN's John Defterios explores how the company is re-designing its headquarters in Munich, Germany.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0321 GMT (1121 HKT)
A new kind of location service could change the way we look at the world.
September 5, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
It's the townhouse that twists like a Rubik's cube, to bask in the summer sun and shield itself when winter bites.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1438 GMT (2238 HKT)
Could you fit your life into 300 square feet? Developers are betting on it, with new, tiny living spaces for urban millennials.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1716 GMT (0116 HKT)
Luxury hotels pry open Oman's parched but beautiful Jabal Akhdar mountain.
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Simon Chardiet sports a 'Die Hipster Scum' shirt while posing at Rockaway Beach on August 18, 2012.
Is the creative class ruining urban communities?
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 0423 GMT (1223 HKT)
How do you feel about buying property? Scared of a bubble emerging where you live? Add your voice to our mood map.
ADVERTISEMENT