GM helps build an urban homestead tiny house from a shipping container in Detroit

Shipping container tiny house
© TAKD Design

One of the recent trends in repurposing and innovation in architecture is the use of shipping containers for building everything from hotels to student housing to offices to urban agriculture to tiny houses, and while there can be drawbacks to using shipping containers for dwellings, an initiative in Detroit is connecting the dots between recycling, repurposing, and sustainable urban agriculture.

In order to demonstrate the effectiveness of using repurposed materials for buildings associated with urban agriculture, the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI), in collaboration with TAKD Design and Integrity Building Group, is building a tiny house out of a shipping container, with 85% of the materials from scrap donated by General Motors.

This shipping container tiny house will offer 320 square feet of living space, two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom, which will house an intern ("student caretaker"), who will live in the home year-round while managing the farm and conducting agricultural research.

Currently sitting in the parking lot of General Motor’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, the shipping container will be finished out into a livable space with skilled labor from Detroit-Hamtramck’s UAW Local 22 and other GM employee volunteers, who will cut and install doors and windows, install the electrical system, put in floors and walls and other components of the home.

General Motors has donated a lot of scrap materials from several of its facilities, which will enable the shipping container home to be built using 85% recycled materials, and once the unit is finished, it will be relocated to MUFI's urban garden center.

Among the recycled and repurposed materials from GM that will go into the shipping container tiny home are:

  • Chevrolet Volt battery cases, which will be reused as bird houses and planter boxes
  • Sound-deadening vehicle insulation, which will insulate walls
  • Lockers, which will be used as planter boxes and for tool storage
  • Small fastener containers, which will be used as plant/vegetable starter containers
  • Plywood from large shipping containers for interior wall cladding and some furniture components
  • Metal parts bins, which will become planter boxes
  • Wood pallets and other scrap wood will be reused to build furniture, including a table and bed frame

The cost to obtain the shipping container itself was $3,000, and it's estimated that about $20 to $25,000 will be required to turn it from a big empty metal box into a viable dwelling. The finished home is expected to be finished and unveiled to the public by this fall, at which point the student caretaker will move in, and MUFI plans to have the intern document their experience with a blog.

GM helps build an urban homestead tiny house from a shipping container in Detroit
This innovative project, which may qualify as Detroit's first "occupied container homestead", will integrate 85% scrap materials and be used to house an urban farmer.

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