Sustainable Architecture and Design at ISDSI

Our Campus

ISDSI runs study abroad programs for American university students studying sustainability and other topics in Thailand.

As a part of that, our campus is an experiment in sustainable design and architecture, integrating 17 shipping containers into our main building, with 22 total on site.

Video / Photos / Design Goals

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.

These pages detail our construction and use of our innovative building, including video, photos, and other resources.  We’ll be adding to this site to include our land-use restoration projects, tree conservation, urban farming and other initiatives.

Check out more details on the menu, and look below for highlights.

ISDSI Building Video

(Jump to our other pages about our camps for more details and photos!)

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.  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.

We used paper craft containers at the same scale as the blueprints to understand the use of space and volumes in the design.

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.

The design was created to maximize sustainability in a few ways.

  • 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 gasses.  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.

Useful links

Our cafe: Rx Cafe

Our gym: CFCNX Strength & Conditioning

Want to use our space? Jump to Rx Cafe Chiang Mai



The design was a collaboration with our Thai architect, Nattawit Jongprasert, of GoodSpace Chiang Mai.

Application Deadlines

Semester Application Deadlines: Fall – March 15 / Spring – October 15

Summer Application Deadline: April 1

After the deadline we will accept students on a space available basis, so contact us at [email protected]

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