Self-Contained

written by:
June 3, 2010

Having purchased a 3.5-acre plot of land in Topanga, California, with a very rustic, 750-square-foot cabin on it several years ago, architect Christof Jantzen found himself in need of a fairly quick, low-cost house expansion for his family (wife Lauryn and three young sons). Jantzen, principal of the Venice, California, office of the firm Behnisch Architekten, soon came upon the idea that more space could be achieved by redesigning a series of recycled and modified shipping containers, which would drastically reduce the typical time-consuming process of a traditional remodel.

“Building my own house made me realize that this was doable,” says Jantzen. “Most of the prefab structures on the market are very expensive, so I tried developing these container structures that would bring the cost margin of prefab down, which I think should happen.” At a cost of around $100 to $150 per square foot, the structures can be customized, stacked and combined into one of six Jantzen designs ranging between 320 and 2,400 square feet. With builder Eric Engheben of 44 West Construction, Jantzen has completed, among other designs, a poolhouse in Brentwood, California, and is in the permit stage on a 2,400-square-foot, 18-container atrium house in Topanga.
 

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  Adjacent to a small cottage on more than three acres in Topanga, California, stands a home addition that architect Christof Jantzen created from five shipping containers. He gutted the cabin and installed a small new kitchen and bath before adding the containers, which increased the size of the house by another 800 square feet.

    Adjacent to a small cottage on more than three acres in Topanga, California, stands a home addition that architect Christof Jantzen created from five shipping containers. He gutted the cabin and installed a small new kitchen and bath before adding the containers, which increased the size of the house by another 800 square feet.

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  “In order to create a unity between the old and the new, I used a freestanding steel roof supported by I beams to cover both the cabin and the containers,” says Jantzen, who passed on installing A/C in favor of integrating natural cooling elements into the design. “The roof has an interesting climate-control effect; it almost functions as a sun umbrella hovering over the house with a buffer providing an airflow that helps keep cabin cooler, especially in summer.” The containers at front hold two side-by-side bedrooms; at left is the living area.

    “In order to create a unity between the old and the new, I used a freestanding steel roof supported by I beams to cover both the cabin and the containers,” says Jantzen, who passed on installing A/C in favor of integrating natural cooling elements into the design. “The roof has an interesting climate-control effect; it almost functions as a sun umbrella hovering over the house with a buffer providing an airflow that helps keep cabin cooler, especially in summer.” The containers at front hold two side-by-side bedrooms; at left is the living area.

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  Jantzen was able to leave most of the sloping lot intact by anchoring the structure onto concrete piers of varying heights. He installed floor-to-ceiling insulating glass on one side of the bedrooms, consulting with a structural engineer to shift load-bearing elsewhere to compensate for the removal of the original steel panel.

    Jantzen was able to leave most of the sloping lot intact by anchoring the structure onto concrete piers of varying heights. He installed floor-to-ceiling insulating glass on one side of the bedrooms, consulting with a structural engineer to shift load-bearing elsewhere to compensate for the removal of the original steel panel.

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  On the opposite side of the house stands an old oak grove; the views to it are enhanced by floor-to-ceiling sliding doors, which, when opened, create a natural breezeway through the house. Jantzen was able to sneak the roofline in just under an existing branch. At left is the small bedroom of the original cabin.

    On the opposite side of the house stands an old oak grove; the views to it are enhanced by floor-to-ceiling sliding doors, which, when opened, create a natural breezeway through the house. Jantzen was able to sneak the roofline in just under an existing branch. At left is the small bedroom of the original cabin.

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  Jantzen sheathed the living area’s walls and floor in furniture-grade plywood paneling, behind which he placed thermal insulation to retain heat in the winter. He then sealed the ply in a water-based, low-VOC clearcoat to prevent any fumes from escaping from the ply.

    Jantzen sheathed the living area’s walls and floor in furniture-grade plywood paneling, behind which he placed thermal insulation to retain heat in the winter. He then sealed the ply in a water-based, low-VOC clearcoat to prevent any fumes from escaping from the ply.

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  The dining area overlooks the oak grove; the original cabin can be seen beyond the glass doors. Jantzen placed the addition about two feet higher than the cabin, reached by a small staircase at right. “The containers are not only recycled, they’re very sturdy—stacking up to eight stories high on cargo ships—they are the perfect building material,” he says.

    The dining area overlooks the oak grove; the original cabin can be seen beyond the glass doors. Jantzen placed the addition about two feet higher than the cabin, reached by a small staircase at right. “The containers are not only recycled, they’re very sturdy—stacking up to eight stories high on cargo ships—they are the perfect building material,” he says.

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  The owners of the Kelly residence in Brentwood, California, designed by Abramson Teiger Architects (which was on the AIA tour of Los Angeles in 2008), chose a Jantzen container design for their small poolhouse, which was pre-designed and fabricated, then lifted onto the site with a crane.

    The owners of the Kelly residence in Brentwood, California, designed by Abramson Teiger Architects (which was on the AIA tour of Los Angeles in 2008), chose a Jantzen container design for their small poolhouse, which was pre-designed and fabricated, then lifted onto the site with a crane.

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  A rear wall of the container in front was covered in wood, with the opposite walls designed to be left completely open to the elements.

    A rear wall of the container in front was covered in wood, with the opposite walls designed to be left completely open to the elements.

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  Made up of two containers, the poolhouse, built by Eric Engheben of 44 West Construction, was placed on the prepped foundation in three hours.

    Made up of two containers, the poolhouse, built by Eric Engheben of 44 West Construction, was placed on the prepped foundation in three hours.

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  Jantzen designed a new, multi-story 2,400-square-foot house in Topanga, California, still in the permit stage, out of 18 containers, incorporating an existing tree into the atrium design.

    Jantzen designed a new, multi-story 2,400-square-foot house in Topanga, California, still in the permit stage, out of 18 containers, incorporating an existing tree into the atrium design.

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  In this unbuilt design for a friend’s ironworks shop in Venice, California, Jantzen envisioned seven triple-stacked containers to house the owner’s collection of homemade racecars. “The containers can be a very playful architectural element,” says Jantzen.

    In this unbuilt design for a friend’s ironworks shop in Venice, California, Jantzen envisioned seven triple-stacked containers to house the owner’s collection of homemade racecars. “The containers can be a very playful architectural element,” says Jantzen.

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