Alumna Thinks Outside the Box

By Emily Snyder '21, August 2, 2021
Rory Rubin ’92 transforms recycled shipping containers into living spaces.

A few years ago, Rory Rubin ’92 began noticing an abundance of abandoned shipping containers across the U.S. and Canada, and she wondered if something could be done to utilize the incredibly durable structures.

Rubin spent time researching how other countries repurposed them, transforming them into beautiful, livable spaces. Two years later, Rubin’s thoughts grew into her own construction company, S.I. Container Builds Inc. Founded with her husband Dan and another business partner, the company takes one-trip shipping containers and turns them into affordable, sustainable living spaces that leave minimal carbon footprints without compromising quality.

“My husband and I will be empty nesters in the next few years and feel that it is our obligation — personally and professionally — to try to be more sustainable and make other people's lives easier, even in little ways,” Rubin said.

Rubin studied psychology and art history at IC before getting a master’s degree in social administration from Case Western University. But she’s always had an interest in design and construction thanks to her father, who was an architect, and she is grateful she got the chance to tap into that passion.

“It may seem like a stretch to start this type of business, but when you think about it, it’s all about relationships, drive, management and passion. It’s provided me with the opportunities to see architecture again, enjoy something different and learn a whole bunch of new skills.”

Rory Rubin ’92

“I needed to figure out how to pair my interests, my skills, my values and direct my own life,” she said. “It may seem like a stretch to start this type of business, but when you think about it, it’s all about relationships, drive, management and passion. It’s provided me with the opportunities to see architecture again, enjoy something different and learn a whole bunch of new skills.”

S.I. Container Builds (the company was previously called Sustainable Imprints) has three different models: studio spaces, backyard offices, and container suites. Every unit uses as many eco-friendly materials from local suppliers as possible and are built based on the International Building Code.

One common use for the containers is to use them as an affordable living space for a grandparent or adult child, or to provide supplemental income as a vacation home or short-term rental on any property. Containers can be placed on land anywhere from a structured pier foundation to directly on the ground, and they can be used for years with minimal wear and tear.

“It was clear there is a tremendous housing crisis and our company could help support the need for affordable and convenient dwellings in a backyard or on a piece of land.” Rubin said. “These spaces have increased people’s housing values immediately, creating a positive return on investment.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, Rubin saw a slight shift in consumer needs. Many people whose offices were closed needed a private, secure, and clean spaces to provide services such as personal training, massage therapy, or tutoring.

“Being a woman CEO in the male dominated construction industry is also a challenge, but at the end of the day, it's yours, and you get to do something you love while making a positive impact for others.”

Rory Rubin

Another option is using the containers as an Airbnb rental to provide supplemental income.

“Besides being functional spaces, shipping containers are low maintenance against wear and tear, rust, and pests and can withstand weather such as fires, tornados and hurricanes better than a traditional structure,” Rubin said. “They come over on ocean liners, so they are used to taking a beating.”

For Rubin, the shift in career was a gamble, but it’s paid off.

“Starting a company is a huge challenge,” she said. “Being a woman CEO in the male dominated construction industry is also a challenge, but at the end of the day, it's yours, and you get to do something you love while making a positive impact for others.”