First Container House in Mojave Desert

This is the first permitted shipping container house in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree, California, according to a statement by the architect, Walter Scott Perry, principal of ecotechdesign.  The home, also known as The Tim Palen Studio at Shadow Mountain, was built with re-purposed shipping containers and some impressive green elements such as a steel shade system, a living roof, and a 10,000 gallon water storage tank.

The desert compound has 2,300 square feet with one bedroom, one-and-a-half bathrooms, and a studio.  It was built like a kit house with prefabricated parts by ecotechbuild, a design-build subsidiary of ecotechdesign, in conjunction with 44 West Construction.

Tim Palen Studio is made with six ISO containers (five in the living area and one as an appendage to the studio to hold photography equipment) and a Butler pre-engineered studio building.

On one side, the studio is naturally lit with six, 22-inch, dimmable solar tubes, while on the other side, an 18-foot stairwell is clad in corrugated, recycled steel and a tall, slit window.  The stairwell doubles as a gallery for the owner’s studio.

Other than the obvious reuse of shipping containers, this project has some unique and impressive green features.  The roof is white in parts and living in others with 4′x4′ green modules.  The 160-square foot living roof has native desert plants and sedums sustained with gray water.

A recycled tank harvests up to 3,000 gallons of rainwater from the roof for watering plants in the breezeway, while a 10,000 gallon tank holds water for potable water use or as a backup in the event of a fire.

The Tim Palen Studio has rigid-foam insulation in some of the walls and roof (Title 24+) and heat-treated, low-E, double-glazed windows.  Otherwise — this is the desert after all — the project is heated and cooled with a mini-split heat pump system.

To deflect some of the Mojave Desert sun, a steel Unistrut structure is bolted to the house to secure a skin of modular, perforated, metal panels.  These panels blanket the south, west, and breezeway portions and they’re transparent.  Which is to say, the skin balances views, natural ventilation, and a 50% reduction in heat and glare.

The Tim Palen Studio was built for about $200 per square foot, including the foundation, according to an email from a representative for the architect.  Ecotechdesign intends to design and build more container projects in the price range of about $150-250 per square foot, depending on the site and other options.

Credits: Jack Parsons Photography.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/ixmfourxi Scott Fowler

    Wow I am looking at building a container house and this design is very inspirational. Lots of good ideas.

    • http://www.jetsongreen.com Preston

      Scott, I hope you’ll let us know if you end up moving forward with a container house project. Perhaps we can share it here on JetsonGreen.com someday in the future.

  • Sea Wolf

    Most elegant use of containers I’ve ever seen. Well done.

    • http://progressivetimes.wordpress.com T. Caine

      Agreed, I was thinking the same thing. When it comes to container homes, this is certainly the most compelling project I have seen to date.

  • megawatts

    Stunning! This home is amazing, and love the outer skin to deflect heat gain. Altogether a wise, sleek, & simply beautiful home!

  • Asonneman

    It’s absolutely beautiful but how can a home that’s denuded the desert of it’s natural vegetation and put a metal way around itself be called green. It’s disappointing the architect misses the point.

    • Ecotech

      Site is in a sandy alluvial fan; building was sited to avoid removal of any vegetation; containers are on an 18″ crawl space to allow storm water runoff and afford shade for desert animals, birds and insects. All building materials are recycled and locally produced.

  • Josh Wynne

    Great home. I have wanted to build a container home here in FL for years but our local codes prohibit their use in ANY residential application. This is an amazing example of what can happen when containers are viewed as components. Kudos.

  • Libbykopo

    I love this house….I wonder how it would work in the Berkshires or Hudson Valley? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/papi.jose1 Papi Jose

    good stuff. elegant and cutting edge use of the containers. plus my first time seeing such.

  • Natasha

    Hi, we are currently proposing a container build for a library at a school in one of the townships in Johannesburg South Africa. We had originally designed a library for which the funding is no longer available, this is our alternative idea until it becomes a possibility. Do you have any advice on where we could find decent information on detailing as this is all new to us on this part of the world, so precedent studies are hard to come by. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/notefromself Michael Self

    Very cool and right up my alley.  I plan to build a shipping container home in the next 3 years.  But in order to keep the cost down, I will have to act as my own contractor.  $150 to $250 a square foot should be what a regular, boring, stick-built house should cost.  Containers are supposed to lower that.  Still, good ideas.

  • Margarita

    We are interested in building a cabin on our land om containers. Where can we find floor plans and what is needed if you wanted to stack 2 containers and have stairs inside or open the sides… We love the idea of a solid container for security reasons when we are away and for fireproofing. But I would like to have it open up when we are using it so we can enjoy the views we have. Any suggestions?

  • HowToMan

    What a great idea and use of a shipping container! For one looking for more ideas on shipping container architecture, check out http://www.shippingcontainerprices.com/shipping-container-architecture.html

  • Michael Salisbury

    that is amazing. my father has left my sister and me a piece of property in that area, and i was researching container housing as an option….. wow!  

  • Agent

    Looks really nice. The problem is that it’s only function is to exist as a part of an architect’s portfolio. You can not live in a container house around Joshua Tree.

  • Fed up with laws

    It’s not worth 575k though, that defeats the purpose of using these containers. I have no idea what you could do to spend $250 per square foot.

  • Fed up with laws

    It’s not worth 575k though, that defeats the purpose of using these containers. I have no idea what you could do to spend $250 per square foot.

  • Fed up with laws

    It’s not worth 575k though, that defeats the purpose of using these containers. I have no idea what you could do to spend $250 per square foot.

  • Fed up with laws

    It’s not worth 575k though, that defeats the purpose of using these containers. I have no idea what you could do to spend $250 per square foot.

  • Fed up with laws

    It’s not worth 575k though, that defeats the purpose of using these containers. I have no idea what you could do to spend $250 per square foot.

  • Fed up with laws

    It’s not worth 575k though, that defeats the purpose of using these containers. I have no idea what you could do to spend $250 per square foot.

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