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Steel containers: The future of living?

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The start-up Containerwerk transforms used sea containers into high-quality apartments.

Thirteen years at sea.

The average high-sea container is not on duty for very long and the last trip usually goes to the scrap yard. Ivan Mallinowski and Michael Haiser from the start-up Containerwerk have recognized the potential of containers: They save used containers from being scrapped and convert them into living space. Building with used containers – the idea is not new, but the start-up has still managed to make its steel colossuses unique. They offer more living space than other residential containers and have been converted using sustainable materials. In addition, it only takes six weeks from the raw container to the apartment ready for occupancy. This is made possible by a great deal of inventive expertise.

Ivan and three employees stand in front of a technical drawing and discuss a project

Ivan finds new ways to solve technical challenges.

What does not exist is invented.

Ivan is the innovator of the founding duo. He has developed an industrial process, without any competitors with which the containers can be quickly converted. An invention that solves the biggest problem in container construction plays a major role here: Insulation. Completely made of metal, the raw containers are unsuitable to live in before conversion. They conduct heat and noise unfiltered into the interior and therefore require good insulation. With a maximum width of 2.32 centimeters, the 40 centimeters of insulation usually used in construction takes away valuable living space. The insulation of Containerwerk is only 10 centimeters thick, monolithic and consists of completely recyclable materials. This is made possible by a robot that Ivan has developed within two years. The system insulates a container fully automatically in just two hours. No one has ever done this before. And to keep it that way, 16 cameras guard the production plant, which is located in a building without windows.

  • Stacked containers and a Mercedes-Benz Vito are parked in the start-up's yard
  • Ivan stands barefoot in a completely insulated container
  • The kitchenette and a sitting area in a living container
  • A residential container standing on a raw container

Ingeniouity in the blood.

Ivan’s passion for ingenuity became apparent early on: “Even as a child I didn’t use my toys for playing, but always took them apart first,” he says.

Ivan has neither studied nor undergone any training – a real autodidact. Nevertheless, he was successful early on and brought many of his inventions to patent maturity. Among his customers are well-known companies such as IBM and the Fraunhofer Institute. Ivan implemented the first twenty projects completely in his garage – with a lathe and a small CNC milling machine. The projects always had something in common: The result was unique. 18 years ago, he developed a TFT plasma screen for IBM on which the exhibition stand could be explored in a virtual 3D world. For Jägermeister he built a 17 meter high tower of liqueur bottles equipped with 219 LED monitors.

Even as a child I didn’t use my toys for playing, but always took them apart first.

The idea of living in a container.

Looking back, he says: “By teaching yourself many things, you are unburdened on one side, but on the other side you also have to work on every topic from scratch.”

With the projects, the desire to produce a sustainable product grew along with the experience. Ivan came up with the brilliant idea during a project with the Fraunhofer Institute. The order was to build the “hotel room of the future” – in a high-sea container. Gradually it turned out that it is actually possible to transform a steel container into a comfortable and luxurious hotel room. Enthusiastic about the result, Ivan’s passion for containers was awakened and the foundation was laid for Containerwerk. Containerwerk now employs 20 people. Production takes place in Wassenberg, near Mönchengladbach on a 30,000 m2 site.

Ivan stands in front of a container equipped with tool cases and technical drawings

From raw containers to an apartment – Ivan has optimized every step of the conversion.

The key lies in mobility.

“Living in a container,” offers Ivan many new possibilities and a solution to the current problem of housing shortage. For example, residential containers could be used for student residences, which often lie fallow for years before development. Since they can be transported with any normal freight carrier, the containers, which do not require a foundation, are quickly assembled and quickly removed. If more apartments are needed, the building complex can be extended quickly and easily with additional containers. This mobility of the containers can also be advantageous for many other applications: Hotels, laboratories, social housing or office complexes. Containerwerk already has so many concrete projects that the production halls have to be enlarged. Ivan’s vision is to establish the container as a residential option in the private sector as well. This would fundamentally change the way we move in the future. Then we no longer move from one house to the next, but simply take our house with us.

Seven stacked containers at the Containerwerk yard

Containerwerk uses containers with a length of around 12 meters.

In addition to the open entrance to the hall, glass doors are available for conversion

The glass doors for the residential containers are ready for installation.

A special container stacker stacks several containers on top of each other

The start-up's container stacker can lift even the largest container.

The side view of a raw container with the warning: Super Heavy

A 40-foot container weighs almost four tons.

Photos: Fabian Freitag, Luis Tonhäuser

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