basic container design – stacking

In residential design the simplest way to maximize your usable square footage while limiting your overall building footprint is to increase the number of stories, to go UP instead of OUT.  This is just basic “architecture 101”.  The same is true of shipping container design (even though we’re already working with a very small footprint).  And, obviously, if containers can be stacked 10 or 12 high on a cargo ship that is traversing the high seas from one continent to another, they can certainly be stacked on your property and be structurally secure.

stacked containers headed out to sea - courtesy of google images

On a cargo ship, when containers are stacked they use something called a “twist lock”.  This is essentially a triangular hunk of steel that is set atop the bottom container, in all four corners, and then when another container is stacked on top, these triangular pieces “twist” and “lock” in place.  This creates a mechanical bond, or link, between the two containers.  These same twist locks are used to stack containers being used for housing design as well.  By creating this mechanical bond between our two containers we create a “seam” between them.

example of a vertical twist lock - courtesy of google images

installed vertical twist lock - courtesy of google images

Mechanical bonds are great.  They get the job done, but we want to take it one step further and add a chemical bond by way of welding.  By welding our two containers together we effectively end up with ONE container that is now twice the size.  In terms of structural stability and hurricane/tornado preparedness….well, let’s just say if Dorothy had lived in a container home, she may have still been in Kansas when all was said and done that day and the Wicked Witch would still have her ruby slippers.


6 thoughts on “basic container design – stacking

  1. Hi Jerimiah. After reading this post and the green roofing post I can tell we’re thinking along the same lines. What I’ve been wondering is if it’s possible to stack containers in a non-aligned configuration. What I’m imagining is a pagoda type tower structure, each level of which consists of 3x 40 foot containers oriented at 120 degrees from each other. Every second level would have containers which are oriented at a 60 degree angle from the level below, with twist-locks attaching containers at each of six outer corners (ie the whole thing is hexagonal). I’m imagining 4-5 stories of this with the gaps occupied by garden space and a total population of up to 48.

    Is this type of thing even possible?

    • Mike, the simple answer to your question is “with enough time and money anything is possible”. That being said, what you’ve described would require a great deal of engineering and structural reinforcement of the containers and foundations necessary to carry the load. Is it possible? Sure. The bigger question is would you be willing to put in the time and money to make it happen? If you’d like to talk more about it feel free to drop me an email. Thanks for visiting the site! Cheers.

      • Haha – I though that might be the case. The simple answer to your question is that if I had the money to make it happen I’d be more than willing to put in the time. Like most people I’m still working on that part 😉 having done a bit more back of the envelope calculations I see that my structure is considerably wider then it is tall – more of a “eco-castle” than a pagoda.

        Not sure how the expense would compare to regular materials, but i think the advantage would be in the modular construction of it in a (relatively) remote location. There are some nice forested blocks of 50 hectares up for sale near where I live in the south west of Australia – so another consideration would be making it bushfire resistant. My pipe dream is to create an eco resort which is still quite close to wineries and beaches. I’ll let you know when I get the $$ 🙂

  2. Could containers be stacked in a configuration with two at the bottom and three on top at a 90 degree angle stacked next to each other beginning at the rear and resting on the bottom two? This creates a center opening on the lower level for additional living space.

    • Sandra,

      Thanks for your question. While containers offer a great deal of flexibility, they are really only intended to be stacked conventionally. The configuration you mention would require structural reinforcing. If you have a specific project in mind, please feel free to contact me privately and we can discuss in more detail.

      Thank you.

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