Containerwerk Transforms Shipping Containers into Prefab Micro-Apartments

This company uses a multi-patented process for insulating old shipping containers, and transforming them into comfortable accommodations.

shipping container micro-apartment hotel Containerwerk

Stefan Hohloch

Here on Treehugger, we've often asked whether shipping container architecture makes sense. The answer is that it depends. While it makes sense to find a better way to recycle and readapt used shipping containers, there are still lingering issues when it comes to insulating them against noise and heat. After all, the steel in containers allows them to conduct heat well, resulting in temperature fluctuations that would be undesirable in any home.

But that hasn't stopped companies from stepping up to offer potential solutions. Containerwerk is one German company that is attempting to solve the insulation problem, through an innovative and quick method of manufacturing that allows them to produce shipping container insulation that measures only 3.9 inches (10 centimeters) thick.

One of their most recent projects showcasing their method can be found in these 21 micro-apartments, each made out of sets of three refurbished shipping containers, and located near the town of Wertheim, Germany.

shipping container micro-apartment hotel Containerwerk Stefan Hohloch
Stefan Hohloch

Dubbed My Home, the 279-square-foot (26-square-meter) units are intended as rentable, short-stay accommodations for business travellers and tourists seeking an alternative to a conventional hotel. Built on top of strip foundations that minimize damage to the site, the units were manufactured in Containerwerk's factory in Wassenberg and delivered on-site, then joined together and clad with locally sourced, untreated timber. The entire process from start to finish takes about six weeks.

shipping container micro-apartment hotel Containerwerk exterior
Stefan Hohloch

Inside, each micro-apartment unit has its own kitchenette, which includes a sink, modern stovetop, microwave, and storage cabinets. Nearby, there is a table that can be used both for dining and for work.

shipping container micro-apartment hotel Containerwerk
Stefan Hohloch

In between the kitchenette and sleeping area, there's a zone for seating, furnished with a convertible sofa-bed.

shipping container micro-apartment hotel Containerwerk interior
Stefan Hohloch

At the end of the space is the sleeping area, which is somewhat blocked off by a furniture unit that looks like it could be used as a wardrobe, and to hold a television of some sort. Beyond that, guests can open the door to step out onto a small patio to enjoy fresh air. At the other end of the unit is the bathroom, which has its own toilet and shower.

shipping container micro-apartment hotel Containerwerk bed
Stefan Hohloch

But perhaps what's most intriguing about these shipping container micro-apartments is what's underneath the walls. According to a blog post via Mercedes-Benz:

"The insulation developed by Containerwerk is just 10 centimetres [3.9 inches] thick, has a monolithic construction and is made entirely of recycled materials. This was made possible by using robots which [Containerwerk co-founder Ivan Mallinowski] developed over the course of two years. The system insulates a container fully [and] automatically in just two hours. And to-date, no one else has managed that. To ensure this remains the case, 16 cameras monitor the production system which is located in a hall without any windows."

This top-secret, multi-patented, and automated method means that shipping containers can be quickly converted into housing, and won't have to suffer problems of fluctuating temperatures, humidity, and rust problems as do their conventionally converted peers that we see popping up everywhere. In the case of Containerwerk's monolithic insulation approach, such an envelope will make it more energy-efficient as well.

shipping container micro-apartment hotel Containerwerk plans

As Mallinowski points out, insulation is just one piece of the larger puzzle:

"Insulation is the big problem with building houses with containers. If you look at the physics of a container, it is made from steel and steel is a very good heat conductor. We build a special type of insulation. It's a monolithic insulation, made by an industrial process and surrounds the whole container inside without any heat bridges."

Tackling the insulation problem is one big step forward in making shipping containers into housing more sustainable and more feasible. Nevertheless, it will take some time before we know whether these high-tech approaches will work, but it's encouraging to see that people haven't given up on solving the problem of how to reuse empty shipping containers. To see more, visit Containerwerk.