1x20 ft and 2x40 ft Shipping Container Home, Houston, Texas

About Numen Development
About Christopher Robertson

ProjectCordell House
DesignChristopher Robertson, Numen Development
Containers1x20 ft, 2x40 ft plus 1x40 ft guest unit
Area1,858 sq ft
LocationHouston, Texas
PhotographyJack Thompson

Despite unconventional building elements of this shipping container home, the architects created a traditional rectangular home plan. Outside, the three units, one 20-foot container and two 40-foot containers form the three facades, with a glass wall to the fourth completing the perimeter of the home. The master suite is placed in the 40-foot unit; the second bedroom and an opening for the playroom and office, also take up the 40-foot module; and the laundry and kitchen rooms house the 20-foot container. Outside 400 sq ft deck connects the house to a 40 foot container that inhabits the storage shed and guest quarters.

Description by architect

This shipping container home in Houston, Texas, was designed for a speculative builder, however, it sold prior to completion and thus reflects the personality of its owners. When investigating the use of containers, we quickly concluded that thinking of them as 8′ thick walls rather than as rooms made the most sense. We were able to program the “walls” with functions that fit in that tight dimension like bathrooms, a kitchen, and closets. The primary space of the house however is created in the center of a U-shaped arrangement of three containers. A fourth container houses a small guest suite and acts as a site wall that encloses a small court yard.

Description by Inhabitat

Shipping container homes just keep on getting cooler. Developers Katie Nichols and John Walkeralong with architect Christopher Robertson wanted to create affordable and sustainable homes for the emerging hipster crowd – modern, colorful and creative. This single-story home, located on the outskirts of downtown Houston in a “transitional neighborhood,” is made from 4 shipping containers sourced from nearby ports. The house is constructed using some fairly advanced building techniques that make it an extremely sturdy and well insulated structure, not to mention incredibly cool.

If you’ve taken to shipping container architecture, you probably already noticed the interesting design of the home, use of space, and range of ceiling heights. Building with shipping container is a bit like playing with legos – you’ve got certain constraints, but they can be arranged in any number of ways. There are 4 containers, three of which are 40-foot high cubes (9’6″ tall) and a fourth is a 20-foot standard (8’6″). Two of the 40-foot containers make up the living, dining, and bedrooms, while the 20-foot container is slightly elevated and serves as a galley kitchen. Many of the interior walls were taken out or re-purposed to yield a surprisingly open and airy feeling home. The last 40-foot container is set across an open breezeway and serves as the guest cottage, totaling for a modest 3-bedroom home of 1,858 square feet.

The use of shipping containers means that the structure of the home is essentially prefabricated when it arrives on site. Each of the containers cost $2,000 to $5,500. The containers were placed on the site within one day, and within one month the shipping container home was enclosed and ready for interior work. Supported on 34 small piers elevated off the ground, the containers are less susceptible to settling and seasonal movement.

Insulation and structure for both the roof and flooring comes from SIPs (structural insulated panels). Meanwhile the exterior and undersides of all the containers is coated in a thin ceramic coating called Supertherm – which is amazingly non-toxic, has received Cradle to Cradle certification and has the equivalent of 6 inches of fiberglass insulation! Oh and NASA uses it on their shuttle boosters.

Besides the amazing insulative properties of the home, there is natural daylight streaming in from clerestory windows and a large glass facade on the east of the house. Interior materials were recycled and/or non-toxic, paints and finishes are low-VOC, efficient HVAC systems, super tight construction with energy recovery ventilation, porous paving and much more. Additionally, during construction, waste was kept to a minimum and recycled whenever possible, so at the end construction, there were only 12 contractor bags of trash.

Overall, an incredibly impressive shipping container house – modest size, sustainable construction, use of recycled and environmentally friendly materials, energy-efficient and sensitive of waste. Well done, Numen Development, we look forward to more of your cleverly designed shipping container homes!

Description by dwell

Downtown Houston, Texas, feels like a ghost town. Buildings with tinted windows loom heavily and cast dark shadows on the abandoned sidewalks. Residents rarely spend time here, and when they do, you would hardly know it: 6.3 miles of tunnels connect mole than 80 city buildings, pushing pedestrians underground and away from the heat, the humidity, and the possibility of a dynamic urban lifestyle.

Though the city lacks visible signs of human interaction, Houston is industrially and economically one of the busiest places in America. Its refineries produce up to 1.5 million barrels of oil each day, and its port handles the most foreign cargo — and second-most total tonnage — in in the United States. Each year, more than 225 million tons of cargo pass through the 25-mile-long port, including 1.6 million shipping containers — or 1.6 million potential building blocks, in the eyes of Houston developers Katie Nichols and John walker.

Nichols and Walker met in 2004 at Burning Man, a weeklong art bacchanalia in the Nevada desert, and forged a friendship over like-minded design dreams: "We both wanted to create affordable, design-intensive housing for creative, urban people," Nichols says. In 2006, they founded Numen Development to do just that with affordable, easily acquired, incredibly durable shipping containers.

Though shipping containers are part of Houston's vernacular, Nichols and Walker knew the idea of living in one was not. Thus, their first order of business was to build a prototype shipping container home. In a transitional neighborhood two miles north of downtown Houston, they found a pair of available lots, empty save an abandoned speedboat rusting on the lawn. The properties were across the street from a meat distributor, which could have meant an uphill battle for winning over potential residents, but the location also provided access to Houston Heights, a hip part of town where neighbors chat over espresso at coffee shops and hang out with their kids in nearby parks.

Nichols and Walker signed the property deed and enlisted Christopher Robertson as the designer. Robertson's previous work included art galleries, darkrooms, and private homes, but never anything with shipping containers. "I've always liked them for their texture and durability," Robertson says. "The challenge was to build a legitimately sellable shipping container house by making it feel like a typical home."

Despite its unconventional elements, Robertson was able to create a traditional rectangular plan. Outside, the corrugated steel of three shipping containers — two 40-foot-long modules and one 20-foot-long unit — form the northern, southem, and western facades, with a glass wall to the east completing the perimeter of the 1,538-square-foot shipping container home. Inside, the shipping containers act as "really wide walls" into which Robertson inserted the private and utility areas. The master suite fills the southern shipping container; the second bedroom and bathroom, plus an opening for the office and playroom, take up the northern one; and the kitchen and laundry rooms inhabit the 20-foot unit parallel to the street. In the middle, the dining room flows into the living, office, and play spaces then out the glass doors to the 400-square-foot deck that connects the shipping container home to a 40-foot-long shipping container that houses the guest quarters and storage shed.

With the plans completed and the building permit in hand, Nichols and Walker were ready to lay the foundation of the shipping container home and cement their status as a shipping container construction company when, two weeks before they were scheduled to break ground, their investor pulled out. Desperate, Nichols emailed everyone she knew looking for a new financial backer. She received a reply asking for details not only about investing but also about moving in.

The bailout message came from the "F-man(n)s" - Kevin Freeman and Jen Feldmann, whom Nichols befriended in 2003. Freeman and Feldmann had met at Indiana University, when he was studying to become a dentist; she, a doctor. The dental and medical schools shared an anatomy lab, and Freeman and Feldmann shared a tendency for running late — which left them working at adjacent tables. "We fell in love over cadavers," Freeman jokes.

The couple moved to Houston in 1991 for Feldmann's residency, and, like so many of the city's residents, their intended temporary status soon became permanent. "Houston's not full of obvious natural beauty," Freeman says, "but it has a lot of hidden charms," like the close-knit art and music communities. When Nichols's email arrived in Feldmann's inbox, the couple and their then-one-year-old son, Eli, were living in a neighborhood too far away from friends and venues to meet up for a last-minute dinner or catch a show." Where we were living, there was nothing to do that was within walking or biking distance," Freeman says. "You couldn't even bike to breakfast!" Feldmann exclaims.

Nichols's plea for help led the couple to the solution they were looking for. Freeman and Feldmann took out a construction loan in the fall of 2007 and were moved in by April 2008. Although they traded a house with seven closets and a two-car garage for one with just two closets and no garage, they were happy to finance their friends' dream and have access to a vibrant neighborhood.

Now Freeman and Feldmann walk to the doughnut and snow-cone shops down the street and rave about the breakfast-burrito joint around the corner. They ride their blkes, which total nine (including a tandem), to meet friends and take Eli and their two dogs, Arnold and Ruti, to play at the numerous parks that dot the area. The meat distributor begins loading trucks as early as 5:30 a.m., but the couple imagines themselves as hipsters living in New York City's meatpacking district, and that makes it okay.

Though people sometimes stop to look at the shipping container home in Houston, Texas, the clever use of shipping containers often goes unnoticed. Feldmann, however, loves pushing aside the landscaping to reveal the integrity of the struttures. She also takes full advantage of their metallic qualities: "When we were furnishing the shipping container home, I thought, 'Oh, no! Our fridge isn't magnetic for Eli's artwork,' but then I realized the whole shipping container home is magnetic," Feldmann says. "We've become magnet connoisseurs," Freeman adds. Perhaps the greatest reminders of the shipping container home's origins are the messages written throughout the shipping container house in magnetic letters.

The couple has thought about one day adding on a shipping container for when Eli gets older or they have another child. But what they really have their hearts set on is acquiring the land across the street—which the meat distributor has hinted at putting on the market—and building condominiums and an attached restaurant, all made from shipping containers.

Even if neither of those dreams comes to fruition, there will be more shipping containers on the block: Nichols and Walker are both building their own shipping container homes on the lot adjacent to Freeman and Feldmann's. Nichols's is a single raised 45-foot shipping container, and Walker's is an integrated three-container design much lake the couple's.

The future of shipping container construction, however, is still unclear. These architectural building blocks are readily available and relatively inexpensive: shipping containers can be purchased for anywhere from $2,000 for a weathered model to $5,500 for a lightly used one. But in Houston, as elsewhere, the biggest challenge lies in the building codes, which help maintain the status quo by resisting radical change. As more designers push shipping container architecture from fad to legitimate building system, it's possible that one day they will be seen not only as units for shipping but also as containers for living.


About Numen Development (Houston)

nu·men /nū'mən/1. A presiding divinity or spirit of a place.2. Creative energy; genius.

Numen Development, LLC is a consulting firm located in Houston and focused on small space and container-based designs. Customers can retain Numen Development to create new concepts, confirm feasibility of existing designs, or for on-site construction consultation.

Address204 Cordell St, Houston, TX 77009, USA

About Christopher Robertson

Christopher Robertson, a registered Architect, grew up in Houston and earned his Master of Architecture from the University of Texas at Austin. In 1998, he completed a residency in Genova, Italy, with Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano. Upon graduation, Robertson formed KRDB (Krager Robertson Design-Build) in Austin, Texas, where he received the AIA Austin Firm Achievement Award as well as two Citations of Honor. In addition to his duties at Robertson Design, he is a professor of Architecture at the University of Houston.

Address136 E 23rd St, Houston, TX 77008, United States

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1x20 ft and 2x40 ft Shipping Container Home, Houston, Texas

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