on the boards

As I’m sure you’ve all noticed by now, my posts have become seriously erratic in frequency and maybe even a little erratic in content as well. I’m sorry for that. There really isn’t any excuse other than I’ve been plowing ahead full speed in so many different directions lately that to try and rub two coherent thoughts together may cause a stroke.

BUT, I have stepped out of the fog long enough to write this post and show you some of what I’ve been up to in my freelance world. As you may have guessed by my review post of the last year, my new position has afforded little time for moonlighting and I am completely ok with that. I much prefer to have a fulfilling day job that lets me do the family thing once 5 o’clock hits. The two side projects that I have taken on are quite interesting however and I am proud of how they are shaping up.

The first project is more of a residential complex than a residence. Once complete there will be a total of 4 buildings (Main House, Guest House, Barn with 2 apartments and a work shop) plus horse corral and a huge retaining pond. All of this will sit on 21+ acres of old grove land in South Florida. It’s quite simply an amazing project.

Front Elevation - copyright r | one studio architecture 2013

Front Elevation – copyright r | one studio architecture 2013

Rear Elevation - copyright r | one studio architecture 2013

Rear Elevation – copyright r | one studio architecture 2013

The architecture, as you can see, is fairly traditional. It’s not necessarily a style so much as a simple and honest design. Not a lot of ornament (you’re seeing the Guest House – which is being developed and constructed first), but I have taken an opportunity to show off the rear porch a little. The Dutch Gable roofs are fun and give that Florida feel. Finish colors will be very light with some wood accents. It will fit nicely with the surroundings.

The next project has actually been in development for quite a while. I began the design with the client last year and only now has it come back online and we’re moving forward with construction documents and permitting this month. This will be my first constructed container home. If you’ve followed this blog at all you know I’ve designed many, but haven’t had the opportunity to see any built, though some came close. This is going to be an exciting project.

Floor Plan - copyright r | one studio architecture 2013

Floor Plan – copyright r | one studio architecture 2013

As container homes go, it’s on par with size and scale. Less than 1,000 square feet, 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, living, dining, kitchen and storage. The rear of the house has a water view, so I’ve also created a roof deck above the master bedroom and the rear wall of the living room is a roll-up garage door. To say we’re “bringing the outside in” would be an understatement. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Side Elevation - copyright r | one studio architecture 2013

Side Elevation – copyright r | one studio architecture 2013

Life and work continue to move at a breakneck pace, but I would much rather have too much work than not enough, no?

Some talk, some do

There are some container “designers” out there who like to talk a lot. But they never show their work. They’ll show other peoples work and even pass off others as their own. And then there are those that actually do design container homes. And here’s one of mine headed for permitting and construction this month.


cargotecture – going strong

If you haven’t noticed I haven’t posted a lot of information on container based projects lately. This is mostly due to the fact that I haven’t had a ton of time with my current work load.

BUT, today I noticed a post on Inhabitat profiling ShelterWerks, a company out of Seattle that is turning cargotecture into a modular home solution. I had a little time to check out their site and I’m fairly impressed. The costs they estimate are reasonable and the designs are simple and functional – unlike some others out there. If you’ve got a second, go check em out.

ShelterWerks stock residential model

ShelterWerks stock residential model

ShelterWerks stock residential model

ShelterWerks stock residential model

Container Architecture – a reality

I’ve talked about this before….many times. But it seems that I have to do so again, and again because there are others out there who quite frankly keep lying to people and it gets annoying.

So, here are three things you need to know before entertaining the idea of building your own home from repurposed shipping containers. Please keep in mind these are not the ONLY three things you need to know, but rather these are the three things that I notice most often send potential clients running away in frustration and even bewilderment.

1. In order to build a house – no matter what material you use – it will cost you money…lots of it.

Your home, that thing that keeps your family safe and secure from the elements, is the single largest investment you’ll ever make in your life. You will not build a house, even if you build it yourself, for $50 or $60 per square foot. I don’t care what anyone tells you, this just isn’t going to happen unless you get all your appliances and half your building materials donated or from a junk yard….in which case I doubt your home will be very safe or secure. You’re not Mad Max, nor do I suspect you’d like to be. Take the time and spend the money on quality design and engineering at the front end, then hire qualified builders to construct your home. I guarantee your family will thank you and you’ll secure your investment for the future.

2. Unless you’re a trained designer or Architect you do not want to design your own home.

This is especially true when dealing with shipping containers. Containers are huge steel boxes that are designed and constructed to act as a single structural unit. Once you start chopping holes and welding pieces together you change the properties of that structural unit which can lead to dangerous living conditions. A well executed plan is first properly planned.

3. There is value in design and construction services.

Below are a series of photos – both DIY container homes and container homes that were properly designed, detailed and constructed. You tell me which ones are the better investment both financially and for the safety and security of your family.

DIY #1this one actually isn't that bad...but still, it could be better.

DIY #1
this one actually isn’t that bad…but still, it could be better.

DIY #2yeah, I don't want to live here either.

DIY #2
yeah, I don’t want to live here either.

DIY #3....do I even have to comment?

DIY #3
….do I even have to comment?

ah, a real home. designed, detailed and constructed properly.

ah, a real home. designed, detailed and constructed properly.

a smaller home - more of a cabin really. but still well designed and executed.

a smaller home – more of a cabin really. but still well designed and executed.

And, just in case you’re wondering, a typical American Home, whether built out of wood studs or repurposed shipping containers, will still cost you in the neighborhood of $150 per square foot and up. This cost is beyond what you pay for your land, your design and engineering and is completely dependent on the quality of materials that you use. If you do all the work yourself (not recommended) you’re still going to end up around $100 per square foot. And that’s assuming you do everything perfectly.

So please, PLEASE when someone tells you that you can “build your own corten castle for pennies on the dollar”…..RUN.

hire an architect not an “expert”

This original post has been removed as images were used from another blog that does not wish to have their images reposted and work criticized. However, I still stand behind my statement below. And, even though I am not a licensed Architect, which I’ve never claimed to be, I am a trained and degreed architectural professional on the path to licensure. When looking to hire a designer of any building or construction type, it’s in your best interest to seek out someone with documented design and construction experience. If they can’t show you examples of work they’ve actually built why would you hire them? It is true everyone has to have a first project, but if you’re claiming to have built hundreds of buildings, you should be able to show some photos, no? But, hey, maybe I’m wrong.

Hire an Architect, not an “expert”. Your family and your wallet will thank you.

current work in development

If you’ve been paying attention to my twitter feed lately you know that I’ve several projects currently in development on top of my “day job” duties, and this certainly makes for a very interesting time for me. The concepts of “time” and “scheduling” have taken on new meanings completely. But I’m grateful to be helping my clients realize some very exciting architectural visions.

The first project currently in development is a shipping container home in Seattle, Washington for a couple of quote “raging left-wing hippies”. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Using 53′ containers we’re creating a ground level work/machine shop with office, bathroom and large open work areas. Stacking the containers two high for this space, we create an interior volume with +/- 20′ ceilings for creating large art installations, working on cars, or just partying and getting loud. ๐Ÿ™‚

image copyright 2012 r | one studio architecture

image copyright 2012 r | one studio architecture

The second floor is dedicated to a home office and one bedroom, one bath living space with kitchen/living/dining. One container is cut and reinforced to create a large open deck with views west to the Olympic National Park across Puget Sound. It’s going to be amazing.

The next project has been removed at request of the client.

So, two of the most current projects I’m working on. I hope you enjoy the images and as always criticism and critique are always welcome.


containers and permitting

Two of the biggest obstacles I hear about when dealing with and designing homes and other structures out of shipping containers are permitting and building codes. It’s important to talk about both, because, frankly, if you don’t meet building code you won’t get a permit. There’s something of a symbiotic relationship going on here, right?

So, lets talk about building codes. What are they and why are they important?

First, building codes are nothing more than a minimum standard set of guidelinesย  by which architects, designers, engineers and contractors ensure the health, safety and welfare of the public in building construction. Building codes and zoning requirements can change from state to state, city to city and town to town. Geographic differences pose perhaps the most varying changes to local codes. For instance, you wouldn’t necessarily build a wall or design a hvac system the same in Florida as you would in Maine or in Missouri or North Dakota, as the climates throughout the year are widely different in each location. So it’s important to be up to date on the codes that affect your building site.

As I mentioned, building codes are set to provide for a minimum standard. It also sets definitions of terms governed by the code such as dwelling unit. These terms are outlined in the code and in the case of a dwelling unit are defined by minimum limits on size and square footage. In the latest edition of the Florida Building Code Residential, Section R304 the minimum area and horizontal and vertical clearances allowable are 120 square feet, 7′ in width and 7′-6″ in height. This is important when designing with shipping containers because you have a fixed shell that only gets smaller when you add interior studs, insulation and finishes. And violating these minimum standards will make getting a permit nearly impossible and will most likely necessitate costly redesign of the building. Not cool, right?

So, if you’ve successfully designed your container home to meet your local building requirements, then your next challenge is to receive a building permit for construction. While this is typically handled by your contractor, some homeowners do go about the permitting process themselves, especially if they plan to act as their own general contractor.ย  Be sure to check with your local planning department to see if this is an option for you.

Now, while typically you need to go through the design process first to ensure compliance with building codes, when building a home out of what is considered an alternative building material/system it’s a good idea to get your code enforcement and planning officials on board early and make them a part of the whole process. In my experience, no matter what the project type, when you get input from your local officials early in the design process they are more likely to be an ally for your project rather than simply the enforcement officer. This means that they will be more likely to work with you when you propose alternative building solutions to code requirements, more inclined to point out possible red flags when it’s easy to correct in the drawing phases and even advocate for the project when it does come time to issuing a permit.

All that being said, the important lessons to take away here are:

1. You CAN permit shipping container homes. Anyone who says that you can’t or that it’s too difficult most likely isn’t skilled or educated enough to be designing buildings in the first place.

2. It is in your best interest, and the interest of your building project, to hire qualified design professionals and to elicit the help of your local building and planning officials when permitting alternative homes. We are not Ogres out to eat your children or gouge you out of thousands of dollars that you could have spent on that fancy plasma cutter. We are trained professionals who WANT to see your projects get designed and built according to your vision. Let us help you.

3. If someone tells you “you could just build it yourself without a permit”, RUN – even if your city/township doesn’t actually have a code enforcement department.

4. Always, always, always design AT LEAST to the minimum standard set forth in the IBC (International Building Code). We’re talking about structures that house your most precious possessions – your family – so why would you NOT want to ensure a minimum standard of care in the design and construction of your home?

Ok, I’m off my soapbox. I know I have more than a few friends out there who have designed and permitted shipping container homes or other alternative building types. Please feel free to comment on your own experiences and even correct me if you feel I’m just a raving loon. ๐Ÿ™‚

ecotechdesign – ecotechbuild

Here’s a link to a video interview with Architect Scott Perry founder of Ecotechdesign and Ecotechbuild. This guy has some sweet ideas. Can’t wait to see his own home project completed.

Video Link


basic container design – structural considerations

It seems like it’s been quite a while since I did a post about something relating to container architecture. Well, let’s rectify that right now.


When designing a home constructed from repurposed shipping containers, one of the most important areas to pay special attention is structural. We can make containers look good all day long. A cutting torch, some bar steel, a few rain screens and some storefront and you’ve got yourself one archisexy container home. But will it stand up? Will it resist wind shear or rain/snow loads? Will it simply buckle and collapse due to a lack of pier supports? Hopefully the answer to these questions is no because you consulted a qualified architect/designer and structural engineer early on in your project to ensure your building is safe, structurally sound, beautiful, and functional.

“But why is this so important? Aren’t there a bunch of guys out there telling me that I can just buy a container and make my own home for pennies on the dollar?”

Yes, there are guys like that out there. I suggest running the opposite direction from them as fast as you can, preferably towards someone with real training and expertise in building construction.

would you rather live here, or (see next image)
would you want to live here?

ย To illustrate this point, I’m going to rely on someone who has several container projects under their belt and one currently under construction. He also happens to be a structural engineer so he knows a thing or two about how buildings stand up.

George Runkle, with Runkle Consulting, Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia posted a sort of structural dissection of a shipping container a while back in which he used 3D computer modeling to simulate typical structural stresses and looked at the weak points of to container components. Here are some of those images.

image courtesy of Runkle Consulting, Inc.

This first image is an exaggerated view of the steel deflecting under loading. You can read a great description of what is going on here on George’s blog.

image courtesy of Runkle Consulting, Inc.

The image above is of a standard 40′ container under 40lb/sf live load and 24lb/sf roof load or 90mph winds, which would be typical for most residential areas on the east coast. As you can see, no red (failing) areas in the structure.

image courtesy of Runkle Consulting, Inc.

Now in this image we see some areas where the stress was too great and some members have failed. Though, in this instance the container was loaded to 50lb/sf or 200mph winds. This would be in the neighborhood of a CAT5 hurricane.

Both of the above containers are loaded “stock”, or without any modification. While these numbers are impressive and certainly make a good argument for container homes, at some point you’ll want to add things like windows and doors, so we need to look at what happens when the sides are removed.

image courtesy of Runkle Consulting, Inc.

Above you can see the container with sides removed as you might do if you wanted to join containers together or add large expansive openings. Under standard loading, similar to the first image above, you can see the container fails miserably. This is because a container is designed as a singular unit with all pieces working together to create that amazing structural integrity. If you remove parts of that system, the unit begins to fail under general loading. Those openings need to be properly reinforced and braced to ensure stability.

This is exactly where qualified architects/designers and structural engineers become so very valuable on your container home project. Because without proper design and engineering you could be putting your home and family at risk. The money you might pay upfront for design and engineering services is completely overshadowed by the benefit you receive from solid design and engineering of your home. I hope you’ll think about this post the next time you see some other website/blog touting all the benefits and money saving tips for “DIY” container homes without consulting trained professionals. While anyone can build a home for themselves with the right knowledge, tools, and equipment, you still need proper design and engineering to ensure your safety, security and investment.

Special thanks to George Runkle, of Runkle Consulting, Inc. for letting me steal his content and images. ๐Ÿ™‚

manic monday: the DIY generation + container homes

My wife and I are huge DIY (Do It Yourself) fans. We’re always looking for ways we can make our lives more interesting and more creative by doing things on our own. And we are completely addicted to every single DIY show on HGTV. I mean, seriously, it’s like crack candy for the hyper-creative, right?

image courtesy of 21stcenturycollaborative.com

One of the things that I see come across my blog search results often, and touted on other blogs as the end all be all of home ownership existence, is “DIY Container Homes”. If you’re an architect (soon to be licensed) like me, this search query should make you more nervous than a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. “But why would that be? Haven’t people been building their own homes for millennium?” Well, yes. But the real question is not “can you build/plan your own home”, rather “should you”. For many of us the answer should be a resounding NO.

Building a home starts first and foremost with good planning and design. This is even more monumentally true when talking about a home built from containers. And while the average person is very adept at conveying verbally how it is they themselves live in a home, it is something quite different to apply that verbal conversation into a constructable set of documents that a contractor can understand and build. This is where trained design professionals, like me, come in.

A home, any home, and especially a custom home designed for you the client, is the single largest investment you’ll ever make in life (most likely). So it begs the question why would you trust the planning and design of that investment to someone who is wholly untrained in building design and construction? Even if that person is you, the homeowner? Any money that you think you’ll be saving by doing the planning and construction yourself, the “sweat equity”, will be wasted on additional materials and time due to mistakes and the “learning curve” necessary to master certain skill sets. In the end, even if you do manage to build a home for less money, the home you’re getting will perform worse than the one you could have gotten for perhaps a few thousand dollars more.

There is a reason architects go through 5-6 years of college, 3 years of internship under a licensed architect and another 3+ years of license exams and a lifetime of continuing education in order to maintain that license. Think about that the next time you’re listening to some other guy talk about how “easy” it is to “do it yourself”. In the long run the relationship you build with your architect will translate directly into the quality and performance of your home. After all, you really do get what you pay for, or in this case what you don’t pay for.