The ubiquitous shipping container — a steel box that reshaped transportation and globalisation — is often undermined; usually discarded or left to rot, its role in the bustling world of commerce half forgotten.
However, these large boxes have found their way into everyday life, with societies adopting and upcycling them to form living spaces, which has made having to sleep in one a distinct part of the “ideal travel experience”.
Shipping container architecture, or cargotecture, has witnessed a steep growth curve in the last few years, especially since these boxes were made the symbols of green living. Flexibility, portability and reduced construction periods make such units versatile.
While the process entails modification by adding electrical outlets, insulation and plumbing, owners also choose to go one step further by incorporating glass ceilings and roof gardens. Present as cafés, restaurants and studios around the globe, this latest trend in the sustainability wave has engulfed the realm of hospitality. While some hotels are shifting to motion sensor technology and water-saving devices, other brands are changing the game entirely by using shipping containers as a structural element.
Cascading down the natural landscape, the Quadrum Ski and Yoga Resort in Gudauri, Georgia, provides stunning views of the Caucasus mountains. Large windows, generous balconies and warm wooden interiors characterise the resort, which was designed by architects Sandro Ramishvili and Irakli Eristavi in 2017. Erene Jerenashvilli, the resort’s manager, says the decision to use containers was a result of wanting the hotel to look different, with the architecture serving as a signature element.
“The commitment to local material meant that we sourced wood, stone and metal from the nearby region, sculpting them into a Nordic style structure. Even the furniture was customised using wood from Georgia,” she adds.
Throw in yoga, fitness, swimming, and over four suites to choose from, and it makes the boutique hotel an ideal holiday destination. There is an added bonus. The slopes are just a five-minute walk away, and the resort is located less than two kilometres from the Gudauri ski lift.
In contrast, Hotel WineBox at Valparaiso, Chile, is an urban winery that resonates the coastal town’s edginess through funky graffiti that wraps around its walls. A colourful structure resembling stacked Lego blocks, one can catch stunning views of the Pacific Ocean while sipping on Chilean wine and leaning back on furniture crafted from bathtubs and sinks.
The rooms are priced upwards of $111 but are lavishly furnished — modular kitchenettes, recycled pallets and private balconies beg for a party or two, and blur the spatial constraints of the storage unit. Located near the late Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s house, you can step out to find where he penned down his thoughts, or just go down to the hotel garage where you can crush grapes and inspect the ageing barrels of wine.
Closer home, container resorts are still a fairly new concept. There are only a few and they are located in areas where permanent construction is restricted. At Panchgani in Maharashtra, Zostel welcomes you with an art display that reads #BeContained, ushering you into a medley of volumes outlined with rustic colours. Combining dormitories with private rooms, the backpacker hostel is located above the scenic Krishna valley and was designed by architect Madhav Joshi and associates.
Discussing the containers, Dharamveer Singh Chouhan, CEO and co-founder, Zostel, says, “We wanted travellers to feel they were floating above the clouds. The cantilever usage of the containers is one of the main reasons for using them in Panchgani.” Vishal Sudhakar, managing director, Building in a Box, adds that “People are now looking for alternative travel experiences. They are experimenting with jungle stays, tree houses and container resorts.”
Sudhakar’s firm has built beachside container properties at Sayalgudi in Ramanathapuram, and is also behind the quirky Bell Tiffin Box restaurant concept in Madurai.
What is the experience inside a 20-feet container like? Most of the rooms can accommodate only two or three adults, but through innovations in furnishing, flooring and lighting, one hardly notices the difference in spatial volume.
“The experience of staying in a container has been designed so space is optimised in the best possible way. We had to do some modifications to our standard dorm bed designs so as to optimise space usage while not having to compromise on comfort,” says Dharamveer.
Vishal pitches in: “Height is the major restricting factor as it is not advisable to open up the top of the container. In terms of cost, container architecture can result in a 25-30 % reduction, especially if you choose to compete with mainstream hotels.”
With travel itineraries getting influenced by Instagram hashtags, and the desire to show off unique experiences, it is interesting to see where container resorts are headed. Maybe, in this case, thinking inside the box provides the best perspective!