At this year’s Casacor Minas Gerais in Brazil—one of the country’s leading architecture and interiors exhibitions—architecture studio Plano Livre showcased a rather unusual guest house. Although its appearance resembles shipping container construction, it was actually made using modular container units specially designed for the construction industry. Characterized by its innovative structure and bright colors, the cabin represents a new approach to creating flexible, low-cost tiny homes with ease.
Following the exhibition, Estúdio Lapinha was dismantled and then reassembled in Lapinha da Serra, a village in Minas Gerais state known for its waterfalls and natural beauty. "The project aims at providing a refuge from the city, a place to relax and enjoy the view to Lapinha da Serra’s mountain range," explains architect and Plano Livre cofounder Ada Penna.
It’s no surprise that the construction industry is taking inspiration from the modularity of shipping containers—in recent decades, they have been used for everything from pop-up bars and retail spaces to commercial offices, home extensions, and even swimming pools. While containers are practical as building blocks, there is currently a global shortage caused largely by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The modules we used are not conventional shipping containers, which are hard to find in the Brazilian market right now," reveals Penna, who obtained the units from Lafaete Locações. "They are fabricated for the construction industry and imitate shipping containers."
Lafaete Locações makes these modular container structures specifically for use in construction. The containers are designed for ease of assembly and disassembly, and are made using high-quality, durable materials with an expanded polystyrene coating on the wall panels and a roof structure that allows for water drainage.
Estúdio Lapinha is made up of two of the containers with the services for the kitchen and bathroom concentrated in one wall. As a result, the floor plan is divided in two: the kitchen and bathroom in one module, a bedroom/living space with a fold-out sofa bed in the other. The living space opens out to a large deck, with a hammock-style bed built into one side.
The walls of the living space are glazed, and the bathroom features a glass wall that allows guests to immerse themselves in the forest views, even when showering. "The space is built for contemplation," says Penna. "Wide glass doors dissolve the boundaries between exterior and interior, and the tones bring nature into this refuge."
The interior of the compact guest house is painted in a bright palette of green, blue, and a terra-cotta color to evoke the hues of the surrounding landscape, says Penna. The exterior has been painted green to allow the form to disappear in the lushly forested site, creating less of a visual impact. The use of color also helps to define different zones in the small space: green for living and sleeping, orange for the kitchen, and blue for the bathroom.
By painting the container’s acoustic panels, the design team not only gave the cabin a strong personality, but also avoided the need to add cladding to the interior walls. This clever strategy freed up the budget for bespoke joinery throughout, which was also designed by Plano Livre.
"My favorite part of the project is the fact that it will be experienced by people, even after the exhibition," says Penna. "As a result of it being given a permanent location, it didn’t generate any waste after it was exhibited at Casacor Minas."
Architect of Record: Plano Livre
Builder: Alven Consultoria e Obras Civis
Interior Design: Plano Livre
Container Modules: Lafaete Locações
Photographer: Henrique Queiroga
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