Some architects are thinking *inside* the box when it comes to hotel design.
It may not sound like the most comfortable place to lay your head, but steel shipping containers have become the latest trend in hotels. What? You mean those big steel crates loaded onto ships and trains to transport cars, books, coal, wheat and other cargo too expensive to send by air? Yes! While it sounds crazy, shipping-container-turned hotels are innovative and creative, and for the most part, you don’t even know you’re in a shipping container. An important plus: They’re eco-friendly as well. Here are some of the world’s best.
Farm Ville Café and Homestay
WHERE: Sekinchan, Malaysia
A tranquil country hotel set amid paddy fields in the coastal town of Sekinchan (about an hour and a half from Kuala Lumpur), Farm Villa Café and Homestay stands out with its rooms made from stacks of bright red shipping containers. The property includes a swimming pool, an open-air patio atop most rooms, a barbecue area, a café—even a mini rooftop golf course. And even if you don’t stay here, you can always stop by to sip a tea or coffee in a sublime setting.
Quadrum Ski & Yoga Resort
WHERE: Gudauri, Georgia
Perched on a snowy hillside in Georgia’s Caucasus Mountains, this pyramidal jumble of shipping containers on stilts not only sports trendy modernist panache; its design protects the environment as well. All rooms—ranging from single to family to deluxe—have huge windows taking in the panoramic views, while suites include the added touch of a wooden terrace. Inside, rooms are bright and minimalist with rustic wood finishing, designer shelves, and some even have spiral staircases. The best part? The slopes are a 5-minute walk away.
WHERE: Pinamar, Argentina
At this funky beach resort about 220 miles southeast of Buenos Aires, private guest cabins made of shipping containers are scattered about the pine-shaded grounds. Each L-shaped unit comprises artful, colorful décor, daylight-filled windows, kitchenettes, and a private balcony. There’s also a garden and on-site swimming pool. The property started as an art studio, and the one-time gallery has been transformed into a more traditional hostel, for those who aren’t into shipping containers.
WHERE: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
When young entrepreneur Ryan Loo Chung Fong first approached Kuala Lumpur’s City Hall with his idea of building a shipping container hotel in the heart of the city center, they thought he was crazy. But his passion for responsible hotel development eventually convinced them. The result is the super trendy Container Hotel, complete with recycled water in the toilet cistern and energy-efficient lighting. The containers are painted bright orange, and a graffiti artist has added a colorful verve throughout. Choose among several different room types, including different size “suites” with bathroom, concrete cylinder tubes (yes, like the kind you see along the highway, but cozy), and indoor cabana tents.
INSIDER TIPContainer Hotel Group has several other properties in Malaysia: in Ipoh, complete with indoor slide; in Georgetown, Penang; and a capsule hotel at the international airport in KL.
Sarang by the Brook
WHERE: Kuala Kubu Baru, Malaysia
Eleven bright blue container rooms hide among the jungle at this eco-friendly resort near the colonial hilltop village of Kuala Kubu Baru, about an hour from Kuala Lumpur. It’s all about adventure here, with wilderness experiences including river trekking, night jungle trekking, and white-water rafting. Or just sit by the saltwater pool and listen to the jungle symphony of monkeys and tropical birds.
WHERE: Nha Trang, Vietnam
Built to resemble cabin beds on a luxury train, Ccasa Hostel offers 43 beds in 10 rooms created from primary-colored shipping containers. You have your choice of a dorm room (with either four or six beds) or private four-bed room. And just like a train car, each room has a large window to ward off claustrophobia. But the true heart of the place is the table-filled communal areas interspersed in between, including a kitchen, living room, playroom, and washing area, accessed via greenery-shaded stairs, bridges, and catwalks. Oh, and there’s a beach just minutes away.
WHERE: Rostock-Warnemünde, Germany
It took seven years to build this harborside hostel in Rostock on the Baltic Coast, where 64 en-suite rooms are made from 86 customized shipping containers. The style conveys the rough charm of its industrial setting, and the rooms (both suites and dorms) aren’t fancy by any means. But the focus here is on being active, with enticements including a climbing wall, a games room, a movie theater, and a sauna on the roof. Bike hire is available at the front desk so guests can explore the bike-friendly surrounds, and a nearby beach beckons with swimming, watersports like SUP, and volleyball. There’s also a communal kitchen and bar and restaurant.
Studio 6 Extended Stay Hotel
WHERE: Alberta, Canada
The boxy, stucco exterior of the four-story Studio 6 in Bruderheim gives no hint that it’s made from shipping containers. But here you’ll find one of North America’s largest shipping-container hotels, with 63 rooms—each with a kitchenette, plus a lounge area, fitness room, and large meeting room. Even the full-service elevator is made from a shipping container standing on its side. The hotel, which opened in 2016, was built specifically to house long-stay workers in the local oilfields but is open to everyone.
WHERE: Hong Kong
This one is just a concept as of now, but it’s so cool! It’s built like an enormous Jenga puzzle, with colorful shipping containers that can be swapped out, inserted, and rearranged into a structural matrix depending on the hotel’s needs. In addition, the “rooms” can be moved to different locations, in effect bringing the hotel to you, which would be wonderful in a seasonal industry. It was a contender in the 2014 Radical Innovation Awards competition, and its designers are still looking for takers. Anyone?
Holiday Inn Express EventCity
WHERE: Manchester, England
There’s no indication of shipping containers anywhere in this newly opened 220-room hotel in Manchester, England. You wouldn’t question anything but traditional building techniques looking at the somewhat bland exterior, and the modern interior is complete with carpeting, wallpaper, and full-height windows. Yet, beneath the surface, steel shipping containers from China comprise the building’s structure. The modules were created off-site, including the interior fixtures, then stacked on top of a podium using a crane. Kind of like a giant Legos set.
WHERE: London, England
It’s interesting that several different hotel chains have gotten into the box-and-breakfast business, and in this case, it’s Travelodge.
Eighty-six recycled containers of different sizes were used to create this 120-room, eight-story hotel in London Uxbridge. Though you’d never know it, inside or out. It’s said that modular construction makes the building process 40 to 60 percent quicker than traditional methods (in this case it took only 20 days), and it also reduces on-site waste by 70 percent.
INSIDER TIPTravelodge also has a 307-room version at Heathrow, using 181 shipping containers in its construction—the biggest modular hotel to date.
WHERE: Sioux Lookout, Canada
Far off the radar in northern Ontario, about 235 miles northwest of Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout is a land of fishing camps and hunting lodges. And it’s home to one of North America’s largest shipping container hotels, the Days Inn, made of 120 repurposed shipping containers. Why here? The fact that its durable steel construction effectively wards off the chill in this harsh climate, was definitely a plus.