vancouver sun – zigloo article
Designer innovates inside the box with containers
BY DIANE DAKERS
Coastal residents are accustomed to seeing shipping containers piled high on passing freighters. They don’t expect to see them piled up on the city lot next door.
But that’s what some Victoria residents will find right now if they peer over the fence into Keith Dewey’s yard.
The residential designer is in the process of transforming eight of the discarded corrugated metal boxes into a 2,000-square foot luxury home in funky Fernwood, one of Victoria’s oldest areas.
While some neighbours might consider the container house “weird” or “ugly,” for Dewey, who will live there with his wife and 12-year-old daughter, the house is the ultimate example of reduce-reuserecycle — his main motivation for the creation.
“My concept here is to make use of something that’s destined for the scrap yard,” says the 37-yearold who studied architecture and environmental design at Ryerson University and the Ontario College of Art. “And it’s reducing the amount of other building materials that would have been used.”
Not only are shipping containers environmentally friendly building blocks, they are also sturdy and inexpensive — Dewey paid about $3,000 each for his. And they make for a quick and simple construction process — it took less than a month from pouring the foundation to finishing the framing of Dewey’s house, using the Lego-like modules.
“It’s a concept with a lot of promise,” says the designer, who has drawn up plans for — but not yet built — a number of other container homes.
But shipping container architecture isn’t a new concept. It’s something designers and builders around the world have been experimenting with for about two decades.
In recent years, shipping containers have been used to create temporary, emergency and disaster housing; in Africa and Jamaica, containers have become schools; in Scotland and California, the steel structures are used as artists’ studios; in South Africa a hostel was built from the charmless metal boxes; and a travelling exhibition in the U.S. is housed in a travelling container-built museum.
The largest example of container architecture is a five-storey, 34-unit project in London, England, called Container City. This colourful live-work space for artists, built from 45 of the 40-foot containers, was completed in 2002.
For Dewey, the idea for a container home first started brewing 2 1 /2 years ago, when he read an article about a cottage in the Australian outback, created from a single shipping container. “It spurred the idea in my mind, so I went on eBay and found some little toy containers and started to play.”
After some trial and error, consultation with engineers and input from city hall, Dewey eventually came up with the design, dubbed “Domestique,” that is now becoming his home.
The Victoria residence is constructed from eight shipping containers purchased in Tsawwassen, where “they’re a dime a dozen.” When they arrived at his 4,000-square-foot panhandle lot on Vancouver Island, in March, Dewey watched nervously as a crane hoisted the 8- by 20-foot structures on top of each other like toy building blocks.
The containers, with their cutout windows and doors, were then welded together, and the building is now so structurally sound, Dewey says, “I think this will be the go-to house when the Big One [earthquake] hits.”
When it’s completed in late summer, the house will have three bedrooms, two bathrooms, an open-plan main floor (with kitchen, dining room and living room), five balconies, a full basement, laundry room and storage area. Added luxuries, such as in-floor heating, a 9 1 /2-foot ceiling in the master bedroom (thanks to a curved steel roof) and high-end appliances are also in the plans.
The inside walls will be insulated with about two inches of spray foam between the corrugated metal and drywall. “From the inside, it will look like a normal house,” says Dewey, now living in a rental suite with his family. “Outside, we’re going to keep it steel but we’re going to sand it and paint it.”
Interior designer Julia Roemer says the home’s interior will have a “contemporary industrial” look, featuring metal and concrete elements in keeping with the exterior. “But the finished product won’t feel like you’re living in a tin can,” she says. “It’s not really that different from a regular house.”
Roemer acknowledges, though, that living in a metal shipping container house isn’t for everyone. “It’s definitely a home for a modern family. It’s a very European style of living. Everyone has a bedroom but the common areas are quite small. There’s no great room, no rumpus room, no media room. The living area is humble but completely adequate.”
She sees this type of “innovative” housing as something the entire building community should pay attention to. “With all this crazy building going on, this is just keeping it simple.”
Dewey agrees the container house lifestyle wouldn’t appeal to everyone, and he expects the house will raise a few eyebrows among traditionalists. But he insists it’s a concept that makes good sense.
“When people look at this, they won’t say, ‘What is that?’ They’ll look at it and say, ‘Oh, it’s a house and it’s a really interesting way to make a house.’ It’s not that much of a stretch. But to put one together takes a bit of creativity and determination.”
At $150 a foot, container house is a good deal
At a building cost of about $150/square foot, in a market where building costs are typically double or triple that, Keith Dewey believes a house made of shipping containers is a good deal.
“My objective is to create a very comfortable, luxurious environment at a low cost,’’ says the Victoria residential designer, adding that the cost of future container projects will be 15 to 20 per cent less, given the engineering work has now been done and paid for.
To view Dewey’s other container home designs, visit his website: www.zigloo.ca