Designboom shows a shipping container project that shows how it's done. It's a temporary building used as offices by Architecture practice arcgency. It's also an example of where I can honestly say that shipping container architecture makes sense. Designboom describes it:
Stacked three storeys high, the used shipping containers are conceived as an experimental prefabricated scheme that challenges universal waste issues and traditional building techniques. The span between the units is utilized as flexible space for primary workspace functions, while interiors can be used for secondary functions such as meeting rooms, workshops and storage.
The designers recognize the limitations of shipping containers and use them as building blocks to create the structure. Rather than take out whole walls and trying to put them together to make bigger spaces, they span in between them with conventional floors and roofs. They really take advantage of their strength, and use their interiors for meeting rooms, offices and other uses that don't need a lot of width. That makes for a big and dramatic interior:
Then they wrap the whole thing in an insulated sandwich panel, sealing all those joints between the containers and maximizing the interior dimensions. It loses the true container look on the outside, so they stick a few on at the end for storage, entry and a bit of drama.
The hard part of shipping container architecture is minimizing the amount of cutting of the box, as the walls are actually supporting the roof, while maximizing the space inside. Arcagency does that by using them as a structure. Inside, they get the shipping container aesthetic and useful offices and meeting rooms.
The next hard part is making them weathertight and insulated; they do that by wrapping the whole structure in glass and cladding. They have managed to get all of the strengths of container architecture while avoiding all the pitfalls and weaknesses, the best of all possible shipping container worlds. (see drawing below for graphic explanation)
Lots more photos on Designboom.
And to think, I was so critical of another project by the same firm, although they were not identified as the designer.