1. Design for Integration: What is the big idea behind this project and how did it sustainabilityinform the design concept? 

The big idea was using repurposed sea containers to increase long-term resilience using modern modular construction at lower client costs. This project is part of a larger intent to design enriched sustainability, higher quality, and more affordable housing.

Architects: Travis Price Architects, INC
Structural Engineers: Silman
Civil Engineers: Snider & Associates
Energy Analysis: PEG
Contractor: KGPBuild, INC
Landscape: Younis Khodhair
Photography:  Dan Westergrin

Shah Residence by Travis Price Architects - Sheet3
©Dan Westergrin
  1. Design for Equitable Communities: How does this project contribute to creating a walkable, human-scaled community inside and outside the property lines?

As a single Family home, this issue is partially NA due to a small-scale single-family site. However, preserving public ecological walkways/natural storm water management in front and back of the house were a major consideration. The project carefully protected the long rear yard facing the public park. This design step preserved the scenic views with the abutting well-loved public creek.

  1. Design for Ecology: In what ways does the design respond to the ecology of its

place?

Shah Residence by Travis Price Architects - Sheet5
©Dan Westergrin

All trees on the site were saved to preserve the naturalist enclosure of the public creek. Using simpler point foundations while building more vertically than horizontally, preserved natural air ventilation and vistas.  The major tree growth in the front was untouched intentionally with minimal lawn development.  Maximized flat roof space for solar collection was integrated to provide onsite solar water heating, electricity, and protected edible plantings.

Shah Residence by Travis Price Architects - Sheet6
©Dan Westergrin
  1. Design for Water: How does the project relate to the regional watershed?

On the outside of the home, every consideration is designed to reinforce the stormwater management of the project with saved front yard/street plantings, on site water collection, and complete on site water absorption.  Further, the collection of all runoff water used sculpted scuppers for water to drain directly into collection pits on site. This design prevented all the site water from erosion losses draining towards the natural creek below. Roof water is captured in self-contained on site underground storage stone pits for reuse with on site greenery.

Shah Residence by Travis Price Architects - Sheet7
©Dan Westergrin
  1. Design for Economy: How does the project efficiently meet the program and design challenges and provide “more with less”?

The cost per SF netted a substantial savings of nearly 30% due to the use of repurposed sea containers with a modular construction approach. Given the benefit of repurposed highly resilient steel construction instead of stick construction, the design reduced air loss leaks, vastly increased building life cycle energy savings for less pricing, and all while offering a significantly superior long lasting building skin.

  1. Design for Energy: Is the project energy-efficient and sustainable while improving building performance, function, comfort, and enjoyment?

This key list was taken to the maximum energy saving effectiveness:

  1. Foam Superinsulation, High R Glazing,
  2. Geothermal heat/cooling,
  3. Complete LED lighting,
  4. Passive day lighting/heating glazing with intentional seasonal locations,
  5. Operable windows designed for the site’s specific natural airflow,
  6. Isolated roof food garden easily accessible and beyond animal theft,
  7. Roof solar hot water and PV,
  8. Highly ample double electric auto transport charging.
Shah Residence by Travis Price Architects - Sheet8
©Dan Westergrin

Added to these sustainable design solutions, the airtight capacity of using Sea Containers was well beyond standard construction techniques. No air or water leaks at Sea is a major asset that came with repurposing.

By design, strategically located narrow roof slits not only reduced heating and cooling, but more so amplified the joy of daylighting that varies with the seasons adding a soothing naturalist comfort and enjoyment.  The large central living room area orientation was designed to accept more summer light than heat for cooling and better human outdoor living in the shaded deck. The food garden is readily accessible on the south side second floor for seasonal plantings while not allowing for rabbit and deer munching theft.

  1. Design for Wellness: How does the design promote the health of the occupants?

Visual and tactile harmony with nature was the primary goal.  Following seasonal nature with passive adjusted light is very subtle and powerful to the occupant’s naturalist harmony. Using natural repurposed container wood floors flooded the home with the softness of wood indoors that can last forever.  The path of the daily sun was studied extensively and integrated to bring nature’s vistas and sun sources into the home. Further, extensively high tech electronics keeps the electrical energy consumption well managed and low.

  1. Design for Resources: How did the design team optimize the amount and makeup of material used on the project?

No doubt, the containers assisted immensely in their outside shell endurance.  By also including the repurposed 1.5” highly resilient container wood floors, an immense amount of flooring was repurposed. Exposing the non-insulated interior walls of the sea containers significantly reduced the need for internal finish materials such as sheetrock, exterior siding materials, less deforesting for floors, and less sealants. These items all added up to significant cost and product resource pollution savings.

  1. Design for Change: Is the building resilient, and able to easily accommodate other uses in 50-100 years?

This is the home’s greatest highlight.  The steel building envelope is more likely to last a millennium with minimal maintenance.  When one adds up the use of almost any competitive material for the outer shell, they can’t compare: The use of high quality insulated glass, corten steel shells, high tech roof membranes shaded by solar collectors makes a big difference in progress. They offer the longest life and least BTU’s for construction and operations over any competitive materials such as wood, stucco, fired brick, vinyl and more. This is our primary goal with this project, a much longer life, made for less.

©Dan Westergrin
  1. Design for Discovery: What lessons for better design have been learned through the process of project design, construction, and occupancy, and how have these been incorporated in subsequent projects?

The key lesson is that cradle-to-cradle sea container construction can readily become a significant breakthrough for long enduring modern design. It is the Lego, the new brick, the iPhone of housing. It is the use of mass production to open up the mass customization of housing with creative flair.  It also pushes us to eventually create similar and improved modules down the road. It also sets a higher standard for passive energy consumption reductions.

The listed items above are also under current design for large commercial projects as well as high-rise multifamily projects, 2 in the DMV!  Further, projects in the works for floating housing facilities in several harbors are under study.  Socially, the training of new labor skills for this work is a hybrid of local onsite labor mixed with factory, thus providing jobs at home and abroad equally. In addition, we have worked with the US prison system for job training sea container repurposing architecture. They currently provide not only for the military, but also the private sector.

Today over 32 million-sea containers are consistently moving 24 hours a day!  2.7 million sit idle and don’t supply.  These we repurpose.  Our hope is that one day this modern Silk Road of transport will also diminish in waste with new affordable, sustainable, high performance housing and commercial architecture flowering with even better container modules.

Indeed Archigram was joyfully before its time, and now we might just be catching up! Discovery is not only a grand step and indeed, it is the little steps of detail that make it work.

Author

Rethinking The Future (RTF) is a Global Platform for Architecture and Design. RTF through more than 100 countries around the world provides an interactive platform of highest standard acknowledging the projects among creative and influential industry professionals.

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