DeMaria says the containers are icons of the global age. "In port cities, whether you're in Newark or Los Angeles, stacked containers create a powerful imagery on the landscape."
House of Steel
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His initial model house, in Redondo Beach, is intended to serve as an example for residential construction across the United States. In addition to the virtues of recycling, this approach demonstrates other advantages.
The alternative construction methodology is intended as a way of controlling project time and cost without compromising design quality. The structure's sturdiness has clear appeal in a part of the country vulnerable to earthquakes and mud slides. The containers are also mold-, fire-, weather- and termite-proof.
The house consists of eight containers, of various sizes, stacked two high, some perpendicular to the others, all painted white. The metal container walls define various service spaces, and in between the containers are larger spaces, framed in wood and steel, which house an artist's studio, master bedroom, and a double-height living room with a 20-foot (6-meter) ceiling.
The four largest containers are divided into smaller utility spaces, such as laundry and bathrooms. There is even a container below grade, forming a swimming pool. The smaller containers house bedrooms and the kitchen.
Door and window openings have been cut to provide daylight, but there's been no effort to conceal the obvious industrial esthetic. There is no interior or exterior sheathing, and electrical conduit is left exposed. The main stair is enclosed in translucent, lightweight acrylic panels, like those found in greenhouses. The artist/ owners appreciate this rugged modernity.
Innovations in Construction
The container house design by DeMaria Design Associates combines these boxes with conventional wood framing for the roof and some walls. In addition, 70 percent of the building is manufactured and assembled in a shop environment where fabrication quality can be more efficiently controlled. The components come together as a "kit of parts" that results in a structure that's also energy conserving.
The design/ construction process borrows technologies from the aerospace industry. For instance, airplane hangar doors lift open to merge the family room and an adjacent courtyard. In the open position, they also serve as awnings.
The ceramic-based insulation is the same as a product used on NASA's Space Shuttle. It is a coating sprayed on the interior and exterior surfaces.
Construction also incorporates prefabricated metal roof panels, multiskinned acrylic sheets, formaldehyde-free plywood, natural ventilation instead of air conditioning, and tankless hot water heaters. The result is a house that is environmentally sensitive as well as strong.
So strong, in fact, that the owners plan to incorporate in their new house a recreational climbing wall and a "zip line," a suspended steel cable on which they can glide from room to room.
At $125 per square foot ($1345 per square meter) the Redondo Beach house is not "affordable" in the strictest sense, but it is certainly competitive with custom-designed houses in the region, and the cost of such construction is expected to go down with future mass production. This house is the first in what DeMaria describes as a "new residential product line."
In making custom design available at production prices, DeMaria compares his creation to Andy Warhol's prints, McDonald's hamburgers, and the textile block houses of Frank Lloyd Wright. "We are simply reinterpreting and re-presenting the best of these processes in a different medium... a new process by which future construction projects will be delivered," he explains.
The firm DeMaria Design Associates is designing additional cargo container-based structures including mixed-use commercial, educational, recreational, and multifamily projects as well as more single-family residences.
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