The simple steel box that was invented to carry cargo across the world’s oceans has gone on to be so much more. From small businesses to family homes, intermodal containers have become an architect’s dream building material. Aside from the unique design, interlocking nature and the array of ways to customise a container, it’s also the sheer durability of the boxes that has made them such a force in architectural design.
Homes and businesses in shipping containers have, in many ways, become a normal sight around the world. We previously spoke at length about some of the best container projects that you are able to visit right here in the UK. So, we’re used to businesses taking up residence in containers, but how about churches? It’s highly unusual, but in this article, we’ll be taking a look at the most incredible churches made from containers.
Containers are, of course, not the usual location to host religious ceremonies. Most of the time, container churches are a product of harsh environments that they were born out of. This chapel in Port Stanley on the Falkland Islands is no different.
With the Falklands War underway in 1982, the buildings at Port Stanley airstrip – the centre of British operations during the war – had been given a quick and effective upgrade. This formerly quiet runway had found itself at the heart of an international conflict and needed battle-worthy military buildings.
Unfortunately, it seems that the chapel didn’t quite get the memo. Initially, religious soldiers based at the airstrip had only a leaky canvas tent in which to practice their faith; not exactly Westminster Abbey. Fortunately, help was at hand in the form of a humble shipping container.
This standard 20ft container went on to become the heart of Christian life at Port Stanley’s airfield. Plus, with a cross made with the brass of an Argentinian shell, it was truly a product of war. Bell’s scotch whisky would go on to donate a church bell to the container, although we don’t imagine they thought of constructing a belfry.
Ultimately, a few years after the war, the container chapel found itself leaving the Falklands. It now resides in the RAF Museum in London where guests can visit the incredibly unique piece of wartime history to this day.
If the war in the near-Antarctic climate of the Falkland Islands isn’t a harsh enough environment for you, this next container chapel should certainly tick the intensity box. The Chilean Catholic church of Santa Maria Reina De La Paz, or Saint Mary, Queen of Peace, can be found on the actual continent of Antarctica!
Built from containers on King George Island, just off Antarctica’s mainland, the church regularly faces temperatures of -15ºC and, on rare occasions, can see the mercury plummeting to -30º. Hopefully, they’ve done a good job of insulating the containers! While not the only church in the region – there are also Russian Orthodox and Lutheran churches nearby – Santa Maria is the only one catering to the Spanish-speaking Catholic community on the island.
While Antarctica may be mainly penguins and elephant seals, the proximity of King George Island to the southernmost points of Chile and Argentina make the island a hub of South American research centres. In fact, Villa Las Estrellas where the church is located is a Chilean town and the larger of the two permanent human settlements on the continent.
Building the church with containers just goes to show how amazingly transportable and durable they are. Having travelled thousands of miles to one of the most inhospitable regions in the world, these containers are now going above and beyond their original purpose in one of the most incredibly unique ways imaginable.
Unfortunately, a visit to this church is likely to be a little more difficult than the Falkland Islands for Unit Hire’s readers to visit. It’s not impossible, however, with Villa Las Estrellas being served by an airport serviced by flights from both the Chilean and Argentinian mainland.
The Christchurch Transitional Cathedral, known as the Cardboard Cathedral, sits just off Latimer Square in the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island and is the pinaccle of container churches. While the city was famous for the large church that sits just around the corner from the Cardboard Cathedral, this hasn’t been in use since the city was devastated by a 6.2 magnitude earthquake in 2011.
In response to the destruction and closure of the city’s central church, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban chose to design a new church pro bono. His design went on to become the Transitional Cathedral, formed entirely of cheap and recyclable materials such as cardboard rolls, with eight shipping containers forming the walls of the cathedral. The church is a seriously unique building and was one of the central reasons behind Lonely Planet making Christchurch one of the best cities in the world to visit in 2013.
While the Cardboard Cathedral is only ‘transitional’ until permanent repairs are made to the original Christchurch Cathedral, it will continue to be used by the St John the Baptist Anglican Parish once repairs are complete. We can, therefore, see the dramatic durability of shipping containers; serving as permanent walls for a cathedral in a major city.
Furthermore, the Cardboard Cathedral goes to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of modifying and building with containers. An example of another contemporary cathedral is the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. It’s been under construction for over 130 years and has been costing around €25 million per year. Of course, the Cardboard Cathedral was designed to be quick and cheap to erect, as the city was without a church and economically crippled by the earthquake. Even so, the impressive nature of container builds is exemplified by the fact that the cathedral was built and consecrated in just over a year, at a total cost of five million New Zealand dollars (£2.6 million).
From war zones to the Antarctic, to areas devastated by natural disasters, shipping containers have been there to pick up the pieces. The churches we’ve shared in this article exemplify the ways in which containers can be used as a cheap, ultra-durable, ultra-portable alternative to standard building materials.
At Unit Hire, we have a wide variety of containers available to rent or buy. If you’d like to have your own modified container – for religious purposes or not – take a look at our container conversions page and get in contact with us today.