Yiduan Shanghai Interior Design has transformed 10 shipping containers into a striking mixed-use structure on Shanghai’s Chongming Island in China. Located on an open grass field, the building has been named “The Solid and Void” after the staggered arrangement of the shipping containers, which seamlessly connect to outdoor spaces framed by angular timber elements. To further tie the building to the outdoors, the architects used a predominately natural materials palette and white-painted walls to blend the structure into the landscape.

white stacked shipping containers with wood slat exteriors

Challenged by the site’s remote location and constrained by the narrow interiors of the shipping containers, Yiduan Shanghai Interior Design decided to think outside the box — literally. The designers expanded the project’s usable floor area to 19,375 square feet by adding “void boxes”: outdoor platforms framed by timber elements that extend the interiors of the containers to the outdoors.

wooden rooftop deck

walkway leading to sliding glass doors

“The added boxes, framed by grilles, increased usable area, met the functional demands and formed a contrast of solidness and void with the containers,” the designers explained. “Natural light can be filtered through grilles, generating a poetic view of light and shadows. The containers, and the new boxes generated from them, together produce staggered and overlapping architectural form, making the building look modern and futuristic.”

Related: Ennead designs a striking nature preserve to protect China’s most important river

wood walkway leading to stacked white shipping containers

wood deck with trees growing in center

The three-story building consists of a reception and display area on the first floor, a cafe and restaurant on the second floor and office space with meeting rooms on the third floor. Large windows pull the outdoors in; the thoughtfully designed indoor circulation guides users to different views of the landscape as they move through the building. The modern and minimalist appearance of the building helps keep the focus on the natural surroundings. Elements of nature also punctuate the building, from artfully placed rocks that line the walkways to the winding stream that runs through the middle of the building.

+ Yiduan Shanghai Interior Design

Photography by Zhu Enlong via Yiduan Shanghai Interior Design

aerial view of complex made from white shipping containers