Colo Crossings House - Shipping Container Home in NSW, Australia

As its own protected outpost, Colo Crossings is an idyllic escape. Benn and Penna Architects has utilised the humble and efficient structure of the shipping container to craft a unique and celebrated place of retreat.

Floor Plans and Drawings
About Benn and Penna Architects

ProjectColo Crossings House
ArchitectBenn + Penna Architecture
LocationLower Portland, New South Wales, Australia
Area215 sqm (2300 sqft)
PhotographyTom Ferguson, Sean Tran

Description by the architects

Colo Crossings intersects landscape and shelter in the pursuit of retreat. Located 100 kilometers north-west of Sydney’s CBD, and sitting atop a steep slope above the Colo River, the private abode recesses into its setting alongside its occupants' withdrawal from the city in a rural effortlessness, with containment and refinement perched atop an unforgiving landscape. ‘Isolation’ takes on a new meaning as a celebration of one's surroundings.

A 3-dimensional weave of landscape and building, the home is wrapped in bush-laden mountains from all sides, within a bend in the Colo River. Looped internal circulation alludes to the external topography, allowing occupants to move cyclically through the house alongside the passing east-westerly sun and exposed elements. The u-shaped floor plan, containing 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and an open plan kitchen and living room further wraps its arms around the occupant. The horizontal form utilizes a tri-toned color scheme, which assimilates the building further into the landscape: a black platform is anchored onto the blackened rock shelf, followed by bush green shipping containers, topped with a silvered roofscape under the reflective kinetics of the clouds.

The clients’ brief for a place to retreat was extended towards exploration; one can traverse the Colo River physically, or from behind the glazed frames of looping trails in the landscape. Horizontal sightlines of the curve of Wheelbarrow Ridge beyond are juxtaposed with unsuspecting verticality in the central volume. The roof form is characterized by a familiar hipped shape that peaks above the plunge pool, facilitating domestic nurtured amidst the rugged terrain. From the entry promenade, the house is a periphery for viewing, the glazed central walkway serving as a telescope that foregrounds the immediacy of the landscape.

Budget considerations and collaborations with consultants were used as opportunities to support the philosophy of resourcefulness and retreat. Ready-made containers and tanks, and exposed structural members, facilitated efficiencies in construction. The existing sandstone bedrock formed a natural footing which the geotechnical and structural engineers worked with to support the building in an area prone to landslides. The steel structure anchors into the rock, with exposed members as an expression of the structure; designed to withstand its context for years to come. Internally, concrete flooring and a plywood kitchen nod towards the raw, untampered surroundings. The shipping container walls and the roof are double insulated against the high diurnal range of the area, and a new concrete slab was poured into each container to facilitate thermal mass through multiple north-facing windows, in addition to photovoltaic powered in-slab heating.

The rural setting and bushfire regulations of Colo River mandate design which is idiosyncratic to its place, including self-collection and accountability for water. The peaked roof and water tanks collect water for consumption, whilst the central pool provides protection in the event of a fire. The quietly nestled form is in constant balance and antithesis with its rugged context; insinuating the potential for a quiet dip or defense against blaze at any point.

Floor Plans and Drawings


About Benn and Penna Architects

We are a multi award-winning architecture studio that offers a personal and collaborative approach to our services. We specialise in residential alterations, new houses and small commercial projects that are creatively tailored to client needs.

Our studios elemental and uncluttered approach to design forges spaces with a refined sense of ease and clarity that sets our work apart. We have a passion for design, art and the environment, inspiring buildings that have a natural elegance and authenticity.

Our residential designs are articulated to subtly enhance the domestic experience, creating environments that are calm, responsive and inspire well-being. Our inherent appreciation for sustainable design means our buildings carefully respond to the seasons, blending inside and out with an abundance of natural light and ventilation, and materials selected for low environmental impact and longevity. Experience has shown us that careful management of resources is a key catalyst of our creative approach.

We believe in a highly consultative approach to architecture, ensuring our projects carefully respond to our clients needs. This collaborative process carries through to our approach in working with consultants and builders - to successfully navigate planning approvals and deliver reliable construction outcomes.


Our process is rigorous and iterative, resulting in the highest quality design, continually improved as the project progresses. Through the design process, we use a number of tools to communicate our thinking, including 3D visualisations, model-making, diagrams and hand sketches. We see architecture as a process of continual progress towards mastery, thriving on challenges such as difficult sites, complex briefs and planning restrictions.

Our practice is led by Director Andrew Benn, our firm's nominated Architect (reg. no. 8381), who works with an experienced team of professionals in our Pyrmont office, along with an alternative home office in Sydney’s northern beaches. Core staff members include Mabel Chow, Rachel Allsop and Sean Tran who are each involved across the offices entire portfolio of work.

As an architect, Andrew draws his inspiration not just from architecture, but also from the abstract paintings of Fred Williams and Mark Rothko, and from ceramicist Gwyn Hanssen Pigott’s soft, sculptural forms. His architectural inspirations include local heroes Jorn Utzon and Hugh Buhrich, along with the serene lines and calm, solid foundations of the internationally recognised architects John Pawson and Eduardo Souto de Moura.

Working with the support of his team, Andrew is able to apply his own architectural sensibilities to each project, subtly balancing form, proportion and materials, whilst intimately incorporating the needs of his clients.


Our practice is brimming with ideas and energy and has been regularly acknowledged as a leader within our industry; winning multiple design awards whilst gaining broad recognition within the wider community.

In 2014 and 2020 we were honoured with NSW Architecture Awards in the residential categories, and in 2019 honoured with a NSW Architecture Commendation for heritage – one of the highest accolades possible for architecture in NSW.

In 2015 our practice was commended by Houses Magazine as one of Australia’s emerging architectural practices, and our work continues to be widely recognised, including being exhibited at the 2014 Sydney Architecture Festival and regularly published in numerous books and magazines.

Demonstrating his high standing among his peers, in 2016 Andrew was selected as one of three jury members for the NSW Architects Awards, whilst in 2021 he was again selected as a jury member and jury chair. Andrew has also regularly featured in Inside-Out magazine as the magazines expert architect providing advice to home owners. The magazine has a readership of over 190,000 people.

Address1a/123 Harris St, Pyrmont NSW 2009, Australia
Phone+61 2 9518 9900

Colo Crossings House - Shipping Container Home in NSW, Australia