Of course this is not a new idea, the same technique was used at Trinity Buoy Wharf around ten years ago for residential:
Apparently they're quite nice according to the Hairy Bikers (TV folk) who live there. In the two schemes above it's fairly obvious that they're made from shipping containers. However, this is not always the case.
Next time you visit Uxbridge town centre have a stroll down Oxford Road and have a look at the Travelodge there:
Here it is just after completion in October 2008. Doesn't look like anything special does it? But this Travelodge is different. Remove the facade and you'd find 88 shipping containers. Why? Because it's cheaper and faster to build than a normal building. A 100 room Travelodge hotel would normally cost £5 million and take 40 weeks to construct, this costs just £4.5 million and takes just 30 weeks.
And it appears that the idea's going global. So far we've had retail, resi and hotel uses but the latest offering is student housing, this time in the Philippines:
It's called Citihub Mandaluyong and is being developed by the Arcya Commercial Corporation in Manila, more details here.