Redondo Beach House - 2007 Design Excellence / Innovation AIA - Award Winner Shipping Container Home, California

About DeMaria Design

ProjectRedondo Beach House
DesignDeMaria Design
ArchitectPeter DeMaria
Area3000 square feet
LocationNorth Redondo, Redondo Beach, California
AwardsAIA 2007 Excellence in Design - Innovation Award
Cost$125 a square foot

Description by architects

Like the work produced by the Master Builders of centuries past, this project is a direct result of the Architect’s re-insertion into the building design process and the method by which the project is constructed. This project is a Recycled Steel Shipping Container based building that also employs a combination of conventional stick frame construction and prefabricated assemblies. These materials result in an end product that is affordable and nearly indestructable. The modified shipping containers are mold proof, fire proof, termite proof, structurally superior to wood framing and along with various other “components” come together to create a system/kit of parts that is predicated on cost savings, construction timesavings, and energy/environmentally conscious priorities. Seventy percent of the building is efficiently created/assembled in a controlled shop environment where quality construction and fabrication are the highest priority. This project has been published and exhibited internationally and has given birth to a prefab shipping container based residential product line called Logical Homes.

Description by peerspace

The shipping containers are clearly visible from both the outside and the inside. The corrugated steel container walls have not been covered up with drywall.

In addition to the unique shipping container construction, two of the walls in the large two-story living room and kitchen combination are airplane hangar doors that open up flush to the roof. When these doors open, the living room feels as big as the entire back yard.

The backyard also has a 30-foot lap pool and spa.

The shipping container home is 3,000+ square feet with a subterranean 3 car garage, 4 bedrooms, 3 1/2 bath, office, studio, gym, and living room kitchen combo on a 9,000 square foot lot. Interior design is very modern with stainless steel appliances, Hans Grohe faucets, concrete counters, concrete floors and original container floors.

Another plus is the accessibility. The back yard backs up to an extra-wide alley (2 lanes with sidewalks that deadends in a turnabout) that is perfectly suited to trucks of all sizes. Large parking lots and warehouses are available for use only a block away. The shipping container home is located in Redondo Beach, within 5 blocks of the 405 freeway.

Interview with owners, 2006

AT first glance, it looks like a mix-up on the docks of San Pedro. Eight shipping containers -- those orange-, green- and rust-colored boxes that truckers haul on L.A. freeways -- sit stacked two high at different angles on a lot in Redondo Beach. The steel containers, now painted white, have windows, door openings and some entire sides cut out. But there’s no disguising their cargo-carrying heritage.

They make up different wings of a contemporary-style house that will have a 20-foot-high living room and two walls of airplane-hangar doors that will open completely to the outdoors.

“We wanted something different.” says Anna Pirkl, a 34-year-old artist, who is building the house with her husband, Sven, 37. “We wanted something contemporary and modern. But it was getting more and more expensive to do what we wanted to do.”

The structure is eye-catching in its oddity, a standout in a suburban neighborhood of single-story tract houses and recently remodeled two-story homes. By using containers for much of their house, the Pirkls say they are saving a bundle.

Dozens of architects have explored using the strong, weatherproof, steel containers to create inexpensive, environmentally responsible housing. Container-based dwellings have been an option for at least a decade, and have turned up as youth hostels in South Africa, field hospitals in Jamaica, art studios in London and dormitories in Amsterdam.

In the United States, a handful of completed projects include a few highly original container-based residences in New Jersey and New England by Adam Kalkin, an off-beat architect and performance artist. In architecturally adventurous Southern California, Jennifer Siegal designed the SeaTrain House in an industrial area of downtown L.A. using shipping containers as part of the structure.

For Anna and Sven, the shipping container home idea started as a joke.

ABOUT eight years ago, the couple saw a lot for sale but they only had money to buy the lot.

“So I joked with Sven,” says Anna, “ ‘We should just go down to Long Beach, grab a couple of those shipping containers, weld ‘em together, put in a few windows’ ... I was just kidding. With building prices the way they were -- and are -- we just couldn’t find a way to build the house we wanted.”

After they acquired the Redondo Beach property, she checked prefab houses on the Web. “I contacted all kinds of metal companies, to see if they wanted to do something new and cool on our lot. But nothing was really clicking.”

Then the couple was introduced to Manhattan Beach architect Peter DeMaria, unaware that he too had been interested in shipping container homes.

“We didn’t mention anything about containers,” Anna says, “but we told him we wanted to be as environmentally sound as possible, to do any recycling we could. We wanted our house to be low maintenance. We wanted it to be as creative as possible. And it had to fit our budget.”

Early in the architect’s pitch a couple of weeks later, the Pirkls figured out that he was suggesting containers. “And we said, ‘Fine.’

“I think Peter was a little disappointed that we said yes so fast -- he’d worked hard to create this great, elaborate show, and he didn’t even get to finish it.”

“Beyond using the containers,” says the irrepressible Anna, “we have a number of things we’re doing inside the house that are going to be a lot of fun. Like this,” she says, pointing to an interior side wall of the 20-foot-high living room where there will be a climbing wall.

“Sven and I are sports fanatics. We’re going to put a zip line --a tight steel cable -- down a hallway, so you can reach up, grab the handles, and ride to the next room. We’ll probably also put in some swings, some gymnastic rings. Those are the kinds of things we like to do. We figured, why wait ‘til you go to the gym or go off on a weekend or a vacation to do that sort of thing?”

“THERE are certain expected activities that take place in a standard house,” says architect DeMaria. “But this house is a more interactive experience than any other I’ve been involved with. The house enables Anna and Sven to do the things that are unique to them: hang on that zip line, climb that wall, ride their mountain bikes up the front ramp and through the wide-open living room, in one side and out the other.

“Stylistically, we had no preconceived view of what the building should look like,” DeMaria says. “We knew we wanted it to function for them. We started to arrange things to support what they wanted to do. I’d like to think that the building reflects them, and the way they like to live ... At one point we were going to put a half-pipe in the back yard.”

Four of the largest containers sit perpendicular to the street above a concrete garage, two stacked on the right, two on the left. The lower boxes will serve as hallways and open-air porches, the upper one on the left will be the master bath and walk-in closet, the one on the upper right will house a library-guestroom.

In between is a two-story frame structure, which will contain Anna’s art studio on the first floor and the master bedroom above. Four smaller, 20-foot containers, joined to the rear of the right-side front containers, will house the kitchen and utility room on the first floor and two guest rooms on the second. Behind the kitchen is the living room, a 20-foot-high, steel girder and wood frame cube. All of the containers came from Florida where they were specifically modified for the Pirkls’ project.

“I wanted to feel as if I was outside,” says Anna, “especially in the living room, where I was going to spend most of my hours.” The architect originally planned to use roll-up garage doors there, so the whole house merges with the environment.

“The living room would become our entire backyard,” says Anna. “Then he found these airplane-hangar doors, which fold out instead of rolling up. And they’re actually better, because you still get the light coming in from the windows above the doors, and if it rains, we can keep them open -- because when they’re folded up, they extend out to form a kind of awning.”

WHEN all the bills are totaled, the Pirkls hope to complete their, 3,500-square-foot, four-bedroom, 3 1/2 -bath shipping container home for $125 a square foot -- half of the $250-$270 average for custom building in the area.

DeMaria, his associate, Christian Kienapfel, and the Pirkls concentrated on reducing cost without reducing content. Using the containers for over half of the house’s structure yielded major savings. The container sections will have no internal or external sheathing. Anna and Sven decided they liked the look of the painted, corrugated container walls just the way they are, even with their original dents.

Insulation is provided by an innovative, NASA-developed ceramic coating, a little thicker than a credit card, sprayed on the interior and the exterior surfaces.

As in many South Bay homes, their house will not have air conditioning. To reduce maintenance to a minimum, durable, automotive-style acrylic paint has been sprayed over the insulation. The Pirkls see no reason to cover the original, industrial-strength wooden container floors. Electrical fixtures and conduit run unadorned throughout the shipping container home, with most electrical outlets built into the container floors.

“Over and over again,” says DeMaria, “we’re taking materials from other industries, reinterpreting or reapplying them to this scenario, and we come up with a reinvigorated thing, something with a fresh feeling to it.

“Those hangar doors work better for what the Pirkls wanted to do. And they’re also much less expensive than residential doors. It’s hard to get a door that’s 20 feet wide and 18 feet tall. That door’s normally going to cost $35,000. We’re doing two of them here, for a quarter of the price.”

The main stairway to the second floor will be enclosed in a translucent box of lightweight acrylic panels, usually found in greenhouses. Precisely finished, formaldehyde-free plywood will be used to form internal walls and partitions, and to lend some warmth to counteract the industrial look of the containers’ walls. Prefabricated concrete-board sheets will sheath the climbing wall, saving labor and maintenance costs.

THE Pirkls had hoped to be living in their new house by now, but delays in obtaining permits and in construction have pushed their move-in date to mid-August.

With their previous house already sold, the Pirkls need a place to store their furniture and belongings. The solution is simple --and one fully in keeping with the philosophy of reusing industrial castoffs to create innovative, entertaining forms.

One more used, 40-foot container has been delivered to the backyard to shelter their possessions until the house is done. They will then dig a hole in the yard, cut the top off the container, drop the container into the hole, and fill it with water. Voila: an instant lap pool.

Sven and Anna’s housewarming party is likely to be a memorable affair. Guests will be advised to dress casually. To wear their bathing suits. And to bring their climbing shoes.


Architect Peter DeMaria



Address3306 Vail Ave, Redondo Beach, CA 90278, USA

About DeMaria Design

DeMaria Design Assoc. is a creative and innovative design firm offering architecture, planning, branding and interior design services.

Our clients are bold, diverse and innovative - each seeking to define, explore, identify and/or present their own creative business culture or personal lifestyles through art and architecture.

In our quest to unlock the widest array of design possibilities, we explore disciplines and successful models/case studies beyond the boundaries of architecture. We team with experts, public and private entities and educational institutions from various fields in an unrelenting design process. Through collaboration, exploration, experimentation, re-adaptation and fabrication, powerful hybrid design solutions surface from a combination of non-traditional models.

Our creative work focuses on heterogeneous relationships – hybridism among culture, craft, material, form, function, technology and most importantly, people. Each of these elements serves in some capacity as a catalyst for positive change in our physical environment. Our studio is in a perpetual evolutionary state, unencumbered by historical prejudice/ mimicry.


Peter DeMaria A.I.A. - Architect

Master of Architecture, University of Texas at Austin

Andrew Thompson - Designer

Bachelor of Architecture, Southern California Institute of Architecture

Los Angeles, California

Address DeMaria Design, 642 Moulton Avenue, Studio W4, Los Angeles, CA 90031-3715, USA

Austin, Texas

Address Satellite Studio, Austin, TX 78738, USA

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Redondo Beach House - Design Excellence / Innovation AIA 2007 Award Winner Shipping Container Home, California