Architecture

Interview: NY architect Maziar Behrooz talks container homes

Interview: NY architect Maziar...
The Insta House shipping container conversion is now available for purchase in the U.S.
The Insta House shipping container conversion is now available for purchase in the U.S.
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Insta House is created from four recycled shipping containers (two on top of two)
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Insta House is created from four recycled shipping containers (two on top of two)
Container Studio was originally conceived as a backyard Art Studio and sees the clever use of two standard shipping containers
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Container Studio was originally conceived as a backyard Art Studio and sees the clever use of two standard shipping containers
The Container Studio was painted charcoal to blend in with its surrounding landscape
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The Container Studio was painted charcoal to blend in with its surrounding landscape
Container Studio by MB Architecture
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Container Studio by MB Architecture
Insta House is a prefab container home under US$100K
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Insta House is a prefab container home under US$100K
The Container Studio sees the clever use of two standard shipping containers perched over a 9 foot (2.7 meter) foundation wall/cellar
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The Container Studio sees the clever use of two standard shipping containers perched over a 9 foot (2.7 meter) foundation wall/cellar
The Container Studio exuberates light and space, contrasting from its dark charcoal exterior
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The Container Studio exuberates light and space, contrasting from its dark charcoal exterior
Container Studio was originally conceived as a backyard Art Studio
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Container Studio was originally conceived as a backyard Art Studio
Each house is retrofitted in a factory-setting, before being delivered and erected onsite within seven days
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Each house is retrofitted in a factory-setting, before being delivered and erected onsite within seven days
Upper level: Container Studio by MB Architecture
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Upper level: Container Studio by MB Architecture
The Insta House shipping container conversion is now available for purchase in the U.S.
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The Insta House shipping container conversion is now available for purchase in the U.S.
Container Studio plans by MB Architecture
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Container Studio plans by MB Architecture
Container Studio plans by MB Architecture
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Container Studio plans by MB Architecture
The Insta House shipping container conversion is now available for purchase in the U.S.
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The Insta House shipping container conversion is now available for purchase in the U.S.
View gallery - 14 images

Sturdy, convenient to transport and relatively cheap – these are some of the factors that have made the conversion of shipping containers into modern living and working spaces an ever growing trend. Maziar Behrooz of MB Architecture is no stranger to this process.

The Manhattan-based architect's initial foray into this arena – the Container Studio – was originally conceived as a backyard Art Studio and sees the clever use of two standard shipping containers perched over a 9 foot (2.7 m) tall foundation wall/cellar. Spread across two levels, the 840 sq ft (78 m2) design delivers ample light and space to the interior in sharp contrast to its dark charcoal facade.

Insta House is a prefab container home under US$100K
Insta House is a prefab container home under US$100K

MB Architecture recently finished enhancing the Container Studio prototype to offer a prefab container home under US$100K. The upgraded Insta House is created from four recycled shipping containers (two on top of two) to create a comfortable, high-ceiling, low cost home. Each house is retrofitted in a factory-setting, before being delivered and erected onsite within seven days.

The 960 sq ft (89 m2) Insta House is now available for purchase in the U.S. and as standard comes fitted with sliding windows, electrical fixtures and all wall, ceiling and floor finishes. The basic model will set you back US$99,800, including delivery.

We recently caught up with Behrooz to chat about the container conversion process.

What inspired the original idea for the Container Studio?

We had a limited budget and my research showed that by using containers we could get a lot for little money. At the same time, the boxy shape of the containers lends itself very well to an art studio.

How long did the project take to complete?

In terms of actual building time, because this was our first one, it took a few months. We learned from this and are now pre-fabricating the studio in a factory setting and can install them on any site in the U.S. in less than a week.

What are the key sustainable features?

Clearly the container itself is a recycled product that would otherwise go to waste. In this particular installation, the ground around the lower level helps maintain an even temperature in the space, therefore reducing energy costs.

What are your favorite design features of the home?

Its simplicity.

How do you envision the future of small homes?

Home sizes are getting smaller for a variety of reasons. For me, it is interesting to see how apartment buildings could be modified so that they could become an amalgam of small homes rather than repetitive generic spaces.

What can we expect to see from MB Architecture in the future?

We are working on a number of projects. In New Orleans, we have developed a prototype for a pre-fabricated computer lab/library that will be installed in different neighborhoods for youth and local communities to use. We are also working on a number of residential projects. And our pre-fabricated Insta House is being considered for people who were displaced by the recent hurricane.

Source: MB Architecture

View gallery - 14 images
16 comments
John Parkes
If set properly on its foundation these would be homes that are earthquake, tornado, hurricane, and fire proof. it would be a simple matter to embed steel reinforcements into the concrete foundation to bolt these down, FEMA should pay close attention here, i'm sure the trailer homes they are so fond of are much pricier, and much less robust.
The containers are designed for tons of capacity and are stacked twenty and thirty high on cargo ships that roll in the sea...you just can't beat that kind of strength with a mobile home...or any other home for that matter.
Designing a home with these things would be no harder than playing with children's blocks. The size of your home would have no limits, just add another block if you need it. I've seen these finished inside and outside so well that the container is invisible, no one would know unless told. They are used worldwide to build malls, restaurants, student housing, apartment complexes, the possibilities are endless...yet we let them sit and rust away in shipping yards the world over. We must love waste...we do it so well.
Mark A
Containers sound great but they rust. Temporary structures at best.
yrag
"i'm sure the trailer homes they are so fond of are much pricier, and much less robust."
You are incorrect about the cost Mr. Parkes, they are a fraction of the cost of the cheapest MB Architecture container homes, though you are correct that they as less robust.
But The FEMA trailer homes are specifically to be mobile, cheap and temporary shelter.
Alan Belardinelli
I doubt that a shipping container is actually tornado-proof I reckon that tornado debris could likely penetrate a container. Perhaps if it were insulated with concrete and wrapped in kevlar..
JAT
Containers are made of Corten steel. They get a little surface rust which forms a protective barrier and that's it. They will last for many, many decades.
rik.warren
cool, but $100k?
Matthew Jacobs
Will banks lend on these structures in a similar way as a contemporary home or do you need to cough up the cash?
MB_Architecture
@ John Hemingway, thank you, you are completely correct. When containers are anchored to a stable foundation or columns they can resist the uplift of a hurricane. And because their surfaces are made of Corten Steel (about 6,000 lbs of it), they can resist 110 mph wind-borne debris, making them impact resistant. The windows can either be impact-resistant as well for a little more cost, or be covered with plywood in case of strong winds.
@JAT, you are exactly right. Corten is able to maintain the rust with no adverse effect. Keep in mind, though, that since we paint our containers, there are no surfaces exposed that may rust.
@rlk.warren you remind me of Charlie Brown and Lucy in that commercial where they demand that everything should cost 5 cents. Not everything can cost 5 cents. This system costs $100/sf which is astounding for what you get and far less than conventional construction, far less than all DWELL-sponsored prefabs and many prefabs in general.
@YRAG, you are incorrect. FEMA trailers cost $75,000 and a study showed that their life-cycle cost is closer to $200,000. And they are a fraction of the size of the Insta_House and not close to its spaciousness, sturdiness and comfort.
We have studies the pre-fab market very carefully, and I can confidently say that there is no high-ceiling solution under 100k with the structural integrity, functionality and comfort of the Insta_House.
MB_Architecture
jerryd
The problem with container buildings is they are expensive to heat and cool unless you build insulating walls in which case one could just build insulating walls in the first place and no be constrained by 7.5' wide interiors which is a real pain to eff use.
MQ
Containers are and have been used for shelters for a while now.... If not adequately anchored they are NOT storm proof..... Talk to people who have lived through a cyclone in mining towns of Western Australia, their "dongas" got thrown all over the place.... (Injuring their occupants..)
For a severe storm nothing beats a properly designed cellar/bunker. Just hope that the place doesn't flood or you find yourself like a rat in a drainpipe...
The cost for these shelters is way above what they should be, The containers used are generally those taking up space in ports of countries with one-way transport... Importing stuff from other places, and it becomes uneconomical to return the containers to their place of origin... (Which is why several people have designed collapsible containers allowing 5 to be stored inside one, for a more compact return trip....)
The cost listed is nearly all profit for the architectural firms charging for their art. (AS the container cost is negligible.)
Don't get me wrong, I love the use of containers for structures, and have had plans on the drawing board for decades. (Ideas are cheap, having the means and the need often comes a far second place.)
Also, as the container is reasonably robust, it is cheap to put down a footing, and insulate / weatherproof the exterior, if needed to increase the life expectancy of the steel structure.
Stories like this isn't for affordable dwellings, but rather toys, and extra space for those with the ability to pay.