Making a fashionable debut at this year’s Milan Design Week, an eye-catching stack of shipping containers by Containerwerk aims to show off just what the average steel cargo container can do. Stackable, modular, and made to last, the shipping container is the ideal building block for low-cost recyclable architecture, and there’s certainly no shortage of them in the world. An estimated 500 million of them are currently in existence (enough to circle the globe more than twice), but only 17 million are in active service at any given time. Once they’re taken out of commission, they often head to the scrapyard. But thanks to their forward-thinking take on the micro-housing trend, Containerwerk has proven that every container has still got some life in it.

It’s easy to assume that buildings made of shipping containers would feel like dark, dank echo chambers. But Containerwerk outfits each one of their modules with high-performance insulation, moisture barriers, soundproofing, and modern interior finishes — and this is all after they’ve given them a good scrubdown with industrial-grade cleaners. The company then paints their exteriors, installs doors and windows, and stacks them offset from each other to create shaded sheltered areas and upper-level terraces. Each container home is also equipped with solar panels and low-energy air conditioning and ventilation systems to meet the Passive House standard.

One container offers enough space for a single occupant, but two or more can be connected to accommodate families. Need more space later on? No problem, because it’s always easy to add on an extra unit. They’re also ideal for use as hotels, office spaces, and commercial units like retail stores. The interiors, exterior colors, windows, and other elements are all customizable, and every container can also be outfitted with wastewater systems and rainwater filtration for off-grid use.

Containerwerk believes that affordable housing with a small environmental footprint will soon be more important than ever. With stylish interiors laid out for various applications, they’re showing the world just how comfortable shipping container homes can be.

“The challenges facing architecture today are extremely diverse, regardless of whether it’s the living or working sector,” they say. “On a global scale, more and more people require more and more living space of a better standard, whereas with office and commercial space more flexibility and sustainability is demanded. Converted freight containers are perfectly suited to reacting to the numerous new demands. In terms of sustainability, energy efficiency, flexibility, and building cost security, the modular design based on a refined (freight) container presents a fascinating and architecturally exciting chance to create modern living and working areas.”

“On cargo ships that have to endure rough seas, wind, and weather, containers can be stacked up to nine units high merely connected with twist locks and bridge fittings. This method has been tested daily for the past thirty years. Individual containers can be easily connected to one another from all sides to create a larger floor space. Modular expansion or partitioning can therefore also take place retrospectively. We create mobile structures that can change their location at any time using standardized means of transport; in principle like toy building blocks for adults.”