Shipping container student housing

Prefab student housing made from shipping containers

Feb 22, 2010
  • Article by Online Editor
  • Designer

A university accommodation block made entirely from prefabricated shipping containers has opened at Canberra’’s Australian National University (ANU). The project is the first large-scale application of container architecture in Australia.

Designed by Australian company Quicksmart Homes, the project was completed six months after the materials were ordered. Following a modular design, the building is made from prefabricated shipping containers built in China and shipped to Australia, before being transported by road to the site in Canberra.

The six-storey Laurus Wing is an extension to the university’’s Ursula Hall, and features 70 units – a mix of one-bedroom apartments and studios – as well as additional spaces including a common room, laundry and bike storage. Each self-contained unit has individual bathroom and kitchen facilities, workspace with internet access, and a balcony.


Quicksmart describe their system as a “fusion of prefabricated construction, intermodal transportation and modern architecture,” with a flexible modular design that saves time on transportation and installation. Although the shipping containers are constructed new for the purpose – unlike many other green design ideas that reuse old containers – the company claims their buildings can halve construction times and save up to 20 percent on the price of traditionally constructed buildings.

The modular system also means the building can be added to and refurbished. It can also be recycled – the building can be dismantled and reused in a different location.

Quicksmart is now getting ready to begin the second stage of the university accommodation, which will provide a further 188 rooms. Both stages of construction are in partnership with Hutchinson Builders.

Quicksmart was started in Australia in 2007. This is their first project to be completed in Australia.

Conversation • 3 comments

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23 Mar 10 at 8:18 AM • Bartlomiej Klimczak, Architect

Interiors are nice and well developed

Exterior…not so nice and not unlike the ugly social housing blocks of the 70s and 80s which noone wants to live in.

I believe there are countless examples of good shipping containers design in amsterdam that would have served as a good reference

25 Aug 10 at 5:22 AM • mattblackbadass

great concept,
would be good to see the details of how the modules were joined and how issues such as sound, thermal and fire rating were achieved.

27 Aug 10 at 7:07 AM • Charles MacLean

I am interested to know how well the chinese fabrication went together once on site. Here in WA many modular units are brought in and it is amazing how much retro fit work has to be done to get pipes and services lined up. Nothing some good QA would not fix but it is an initial risk with overseas sourcing. Not very energy efficient moving all those containers to Canberra.

Canberra experimented with tilt up concrete slab housing just after world war two and the result was several dozen damp houses lasting 40 years much to resident discomfort – unhealthy accommodation for public tenants. The steam and damp air condensed in canberra winters and moulded on the walls – I wonder how well steel shells will perform when faced with year in year out condensed steam and damp climate winters.

When I saw this first ,I thought it was in northbourne avenue – Northbourne flats revisited 50 years latter! Northbourne flats were based on a design influenced by the pre second war german design bauerhaus design school but then the scope was cut by government architect to make it anorexic and they got real cheap. -The containers look like a good idea- has suffered budget trim?- this looks cheap – was it? the proof will be in the performance.

Pretty brutalistic architecture – Ok for engineering students perhaps but the rest of us might fiind it a little dull.


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