Affordable, sturdy and mobile - shipping containers offer a reliable substitute to concrete housing.

Bye bye brick and cement Meet the people who live and work in shipping containersDabba Mane, Kameshwar Rao's home. Photo by Aadi Nair
Features Lifestyle Friday, May 05, 2017 - 18:12

Most people get to a point in their lives where they want to build their own homes – a place they can customise to their own taste and live as they like. For Bengaluru-based Kameshwar Rao, that moment came in 2011, when the adventure sports coach thought he wanted to have his own house.

So, he went ahead and built one – out of shipping containers. 

Kameshwar has always used shipping containers in his line of work. As the founder of Mars Adventures, an adventure sports academy, he has used these shipping containers to build structures for training his students. This 50-feet structure for instance was used for wall climbing and even on MTV Roadies in 2011.


The place where his house is now, was once a campsite for his academy. When he decided to move his office to Sarjapur in 2011, transporting the two-tonne containers was a hefty task. So Kameshwar simply decided to put them to use right there.

Kameshwar and his partner at the adventure academy put their heads together and started to build a container house. They called for two more containers, hired four labourers and got to work.

It took him eight months to build the one-storey, 900 square feet home which cost him Rs 10 lakh. And while his family was initially overcome with disbelief at his idea, they were happy once they saw the house. Kameshwar says they haven’t had any problems living there since. “It’s just like any other house,” he quips.

Dabba Mane. Photo by Aadi Nair 

Kameshwar is not the only one to have used shipping containers to create an affordable and durable living space. Ananya Trust, a learning space for children from slum areas, has also used shipping containers to create dormitories for 40 kids, living quarters for the residential staff as well as office spaces.

Dr Shashi Rao, Founder and Managing Trustee at Ananya, told TNM that considering their tight budget, the idea of using shipping containers was pitched by an architect they had consulted back in 2014. 

Ananya Trust. Photo courtesy Dr Shashi Rao

Located in Chikkabellandur village, the premises is surrounded by over a hundred coconut trees, which Dr Shashi says provides a comfortable canopy for their premises. They used four containers to make the dormitories, one container for the office, two for volunteers and two for staff quarters. One container has been divided into six toilets with a partition between those for girls and boys.

The entire project costed them Rs 41 lakh.

How they built it

For Kameshwar, who hired no architects or engineers, everything had to be done from scratch. “It was mostly trial and error because we did not have a background in architecture,” Kameshwar told TNM.

“I knew that the containers are stable because I’ve used them for other purposes before. They can take the weight of up to 30 tonnes. What I needed was for them to have a stable foundation,” he explains.

So, the base of the containers was placed on a concrete foundation. The ground floor now houses a recreational space for Kameshwar, his office and the garage. The first floor of the house comprises two bedrooms and a living area.

Kids' bedroom, Dabba Mane. Photo by Aadi Nair

Living area, Dabba Mane. Photo by Aadi Nair

Kameshwar also had to find a way to insulate the house, because metal tends to heat up during summer and become exceedingly cold during winter. So, in some places, he has lined the walls with wood and in other places, ensured that there is plenty of cross-ventilation. The top meanwhile, uses a covering of RCC wall so that it doesn’t receive direct sunlight.

Kameshwar's office space at Dabba Mane. Photo by Aadi Nair

Kameshwar's recreational space on the ground floor. Photo by Aadi Nair

As for the wiring, Kameshwar had to tread carefully, since they were living within metal walls. He attached PVC pipes to the container walls as they were easy to source and bad conductors of electricity. “It was necessary to insulate the containers because otherwise living in a metal box could be very dangerous,” he says.

The plumbing in the house is basic and Kameshwar has used plastic plumbing pipes. The bathroom is built on the first floor, adjacent to their bedroom. “The roof of the bathroom has been opened up a little to let in sunlight and air. As for the pipes, they leave the bathroom and run along the container on the outside, on the backward side of the house,” he explains.

Apart from a tight budget, concerns of recycling and reusing also governed Ananya Trust’s decision to use shipping containers.

Work in progress at Ananya Trust in 2014. Containers mounted on pillars. Photo courtesy Dr Rao

Each of the four containers used as dorms houses 10 children each. “But they are out by 8 in the morning, go to school here and only go back inside by 7.30pm. We have also added a second ceiling over the containers so that they don’t get direct sunlight and heat up. So far we haven’t faced any complaints about the temperatures,” Dr Shashi says.

As for electricity, all the wires are safety encased. But for the most part, Ananya Trust is powered by solar lighting, Dr Shashi informs.

Staff quarters, Ananya Trust. Photo courtesy Dr Rao

Dormitory, Ananya Trust. Photos courtesy Dr Rao

The future

A year later after he built his house, Kameshwar also co-founded Container Solutions India in 2012, which provides affordable lodging using shipping containers. So far, the company has undertaken four projects – three in Bengaluru and one in Krishnagiri. Of these, three are farmhouses and one an office space in Sarjapur.

Kameshwar thinks that container lodging is definitely something that is picking up in India, although slowly. While they have completed only four projects, he claims that many people come to him for consultation and then use shipping containers to make living spaces themselves.

Kameshwar says that he will probably move out of Dabba Mane after five years. But that doesn’t mean necessarily he will move into a concrete home. “I want to keep experimenting,” he says.

Container housing as a concept is new to India, but seems to be picking up for its mobility and affordability. They’ve been used for commercial spaces though. 

In Puducherry for instance, Krupa Jhaveri runs Sankalpa, an art therapy centre in Auroville, made of shipping containers. The Dreamer’s Café in Auroville too has been fashioned out of an old shipping container, according to a visitor’s comment on a travel website.

Shipping containers have also been used to make office spaces. Integrated Lifters, a Kochi-based company providing office spaces made out of shipping containers, told K Pradeep for The Hindu that had constructed offices “for the excise and sale tax department at check posts, at the Metro rail work sites in Kochi and Chennai” out of these containers.

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