The ISDSI campus in Thailand is built from 22 recycled shipping containers to illustrate upcycling and sustainability

As featured on inhabitat, The International Sustainable Development Studies Institute (ISDSI) in Thailand is taking its own teachings to heart with the an eco-friendly campus crafted from 22 recycled shipping containers.

Now, the institute has a clear example when teaching students about the importance of upcycling and sustainability, plus plenty of space for educating on tree conservation, urban farming, waste management and more.

The ISDSI describe their campus as an “experiment in sustainable design and architecture”.

There are a lot of options for sustainable architecture, including adobe, straw bale, bamboo, and other materials. We elected to use shipping containers (sourced out of the ports in Bangkok) to build our center. By up-cycling the steel, they are kept out of the waste stream, and allow us to learn (and teach) about how to use the hundreds of thousands of containers sitting in the ports of the Global South.

ISDSI website

Design Goals

The main building is built out of 17 High Cube shipping containers.  Standard containers are 8 feet wide and 8.5 feet tall.  “High Cube” containers are 9.5 feet (about 2.9m).  Our cafe is a 20 foot long standard container (20 foot containers do not have the high cube option), while the main building is all high cube.

Our goal with the design was to create a space that we could use for our students, but would also lend itself to becoming a community center and hub. Sustainability was a major goal, and this was complimented by creating a space that had natural connections to the outside. Our commons areas flows into the outside space under the trees, and we have rooms of different sizes both to use for classrooms as well as gathering spaces.

Maximising Sustainability

[via the ISDSI website]
  • We reused / up-cycled used shipping containers.  This saves energy and lowers the carbon footprint from having to melt them down and recycle them that way.
  • We saved and re-used all of the off-cuts from the building itself.  Interior walls, doors, etc., are all from container steel we saved when building, as we had to weld containers together to create larger spaces.

  • All of the lighting throughout is LED lighting, but we also maximized natural light through the design.
  • The containers are insulated, so we can use air conditioners if we need them.  Most of the air conditioners were pulled from an older building and rebuilt, rather than having the carbon footprint of buying new ones.  Air con is individually controlled per room rather than centralized.

  • The design also maximizes airflow as well as the use of open space — the containers are built around an open air “commons” area, and rather than hallways we used decks and open air walkways.
  • Container architecture doesn’t use a lot of concrete.  Most buildings in Thailand are built primarily out of poured concrete, which is a major source of greenhouse gases.  The containers sit on a concrete pad and are welded to embedded steel plates — so we were able to minimize our use of concrete.

  • An important part of sustainable design is how the landscape is treated.  What we had to work with was an abandoned plot of land, but with lots of trees — over 10 trees, including several large acacia trees (“rain trees”). We designed the building to leave the trees in place, and to “tuck” the building under the rain trees.  This was a challenge!  Most construction in Thailand cuts down all of the trees first and then builds, so we had to find a skilled crane operator who could move the containers into place without damaging the trees.  We’ve also planted grass and a garden to help restore the soil, and are composting leaves, etc.

  • Our parking areas are gravel instead of concrete or asphalt.  This allows for water to naturally drain through the gravel and into the soil, going into the groundwater rather than being channeled off to storm drains.
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