Shipping container office in London?
August 28, 2013 2:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm a PhD student based in London. I would like my own private office space and yesterday I had the idea of renovating a 20ft shipping container and using it for this purpose. Essentially it would need a desk, an office chair, a few shelving units and an external power source. As for location, almost anywhere is fine provided it's within an hour or so of my home in North London... wasteland, an industrial estate... it doesn't really matter. How viable is this? And how much would I be looking to spend in order to achieve this, taking into account land costs / rent etc?
posted by FuckingAwesome to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
There are businesses that do this (for example), so you might want to talk to one of them and see what they suggest, even if you end up doing it some other way. See if they think it's feasible on your budget. Ask them about how people choose sites and arrange for things like power and access to plumbing.
posted by pracowity at 2:30 AM on August 28, 2013

I can't help with the details I'm afraid but as a point of interest there are a couple of shipping containers under the railway bridge on Richmond Road in Hackney that my friend used as a pop-up art space ( Most of the time when I go past they seem to be lying empty. They might be available, but even if you're not interested they might still be able to tell you how to go about getting your own one on the cheep-cheep.
posted by fishingforthewhale at 2:47 AM on August 28, 2013

You could maybe go and talk with some of the people at Container City for some ideas and advice. Here is a video showing off what they do - if you look at the "related videos" in Youtube you can find uploads from a number of similar and smaller projects.
posted by rongorongo at 4:25 AM on August 28, 2013

The container part is, as others have suggested, not that difficult.

The trick is finding some place to stick said container. That means real property. Real property laws in the UK are even weirder than they are in the US.

You may find that there are regulations and laws in place which make this kind of thing hard to do economically. You may also find that there mere fact that it's not done very often makes it expensive.

In short, I think you may find that the more traditional ways of doing this, say leasing a room in a shared office suite, might be easier and cheaper. Certainly not as cool, but cool is generally something you have to pay for.
posted by valkyryn at 4:45 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

It may be that your container can serve as a garden shed for a property who could then lease it out to you as an office. You may or may not need planning permission for this - here are the details. Here are some people offering shipping containers as garden sheds/offices - it looks like they will make one up to order.
posted by rongorongo at 4:47 AM on August 28, 2013

Those boxes get beastly hot in summer, so your plan should include air conditioning.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:13 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with Valkyryn - it's a boring thing to say, but made-for-purpose office containers supplied by specialised companies are not cheap, and until containers are properly made for purpose they are uninsulated, dark and have no electrical or running water or toilet facilities. The middle ground is existing container offices - effectively site offices - which sell for upwards of £1,000 used.

After that, you need to find land and a landowner that can offer you space, power and access to running water or waste facilities. I assume you don't need internet access. If you do, that's another consideration. You probably also need planning permission for change of use and/or the erection of a building. It's not an impossible bar, but it's a pretty high one.

All of those complications are compared to the relative ease of finding cheap and unloved office space, which still exists, especially on the outskirts of London. You mention you're doing a PhD - I don't think your container option is going to turn out to be super cheap.

If you still want to go ahead, I think your best bet is to find the land/landowner first. The supply of containers is not the issue - they are basically a commodity. I'd get on the ground and go find unused spaces - old petrol stations are a classic hunting ground because they're going out of business, have lots of space and developers can't build on them immediately - they need to wait around 10 years I think. Another one is pub car parks, because often the pubs themselves may spend months or years between the time they stop trading and the time someone else takes on the business or redevelops the space.

Alternatively, look to the artist community. Your cheapest bet will be somewhere that is halfway legal - i.e. like fishingforthewhale's example above. Even then, you need to be prepared for the fact that if it's not 100% legal you could lose your investment in the container, notwithstanding that the cheapest semi-legal spaces are unlikely to be in secure, crime free locations.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:13 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might find this short doc interesting, about a couple in NYC who transformed several shipping containers into a home.
Here is an article about them over at inhabitat.
Supercubes has a blog with lots of info, also on office containers.
posted by travelwithcats at 5:27 AM on August 28, 2013

I'm assuming you want something cheap - this isn't it.

An unconverted 20ft container in reasonable condition costs about 1.5k (plus vat) delivered. If you know how to board it out and convert it yourself (basic carpentry, a bit of welding, some wiring and an electrician for a board mains hook up) you can get away with about 2 weeks work and £500 for materials. This doesn't get you any windows and these would add substantially to the cost and complexity - but without windows they are very dark and not really good for an office. You need to think about £200 per window (unless you really know what you are doing). Assuming one window means you need about £3k (with some contingency) if you can do it yourself - if you can't it's likely to be the high end of £6k with labour.

You need a concrete base or pads to put it on - a plain carpark is fine. But, and this is a big but, if you don't have a location then land is going to be far and away your biggest cost. You also need to factor in travel costs and time as you are likely to find land in inconvenient and inaccessible areas (which is why it's available). I don't know what this will cost you - if you find something good and you are lucky maybe £50 a week, but it could be ten times that. You also need to hook this up to electricity and include a cost for that. I'll go with a best guss of £4k a year for site plus electric.

I think you are unlikely to get an office for much less than (assuming you spread your capital costs over three years) 5k a year. You can easily rent a serviced office in North London for this and get a private office, wifi, electricty, etc. At this cost this might be a better bet.

If you want a very low cost option - less than a thousand a year over three years - and you live in rented accommodation then you might be better off renting an allotment and spending about 2k on a really fancy shed. This would give you secure space, a garden outside your "office", and exercise when you weren't working. You'd need to go with solar panels for power (but a decent sized one would do a laptop and desk light), and check the local allotment regulations about shed size, you'd also need to be circumspect about your planned use of the shed.
posted by Gilgongo at 5:58 AM on August 28, 2013 [10 favorites]

What about renting a mobile home, trailer or other camping vehicle?

Which you could place in a campground, which would be scenic and accessible and possibly electrified with some sort of bathroom facilities, presuming you are within an hour of a campground?
posted by slateyness at 1:25 PM on August 28, 2013

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