The lateral leap of shipping containers from goods movers to ready-made housing, offices, shops, and restaurants has opened up new possibilities for architects, event planners, and relief workers. With a few flatbed lorries and a crane, an empty space can, inside a few hours, turn into a shopping center, an exhibition space, an apartment complex, or a disaster relief camp.

Unfortunately, the very standard sizes that make such containers so useful also imposes limits. However you stack them, the containers are still a collection of uniform oblongs.

Having developed containers that can load and unload themselves, Excalibur Shelters has continued to think outside the box with the creation of the X-Tainer – a standard size shipping container that unfolds into very large shelters and pavilions.

The X-Tainer incorporates a series of folding panels inside itself. Once installed on site, the X-Tainer opens and the panels fold out to form walls in any of a number of selected configurations – each of which can be fitted with a bespoke membrane roof. The walls themselves can be fitted with electrical outlets, basic plumbing, monitors and television screens, speakers, and other gear.

The X-Tainer comes in two sizes. The 20 ft (6 m) model can hold up to 48 sq m (517 sq ft) of solid wall with a fold-down floor, while the 40 ft (12 m) version has up to 224 sq m (2,411 sq ft) of wall, but no flooring. The company also says that two X-Tainers can be hooked together to form up to 900 sq m (9,687 sq ft) of space that can hold a standing crowd of 600 people.

The makers see the X-Tainer as having a wide range of applications. Aside from the obvious potential as an emergency shelter or an event space, it could lo be used for military bases, agriculture, greenhouses, mobile solar power plants, water purification, and animal paddocks.

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