Who Knew a Relaxing Tropical Retreat Could Be Made of Shipping Containers?

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By Patrick Sisson / Published by Dwell
This modern residence and gallery near San Jose, Costa Rica uses metal boxes like puzzle pieces to create a photographer's dream home.

Architect Maria Jose Trejos loves modern lines and clean shapes, so when photographer Sergio Pucci asked her to build him a live-work space on a 6,240-square-foot plot in Guachipelin, Escazú, San José, the suggestion to incorporate shipping containers seemed like a suitable choice. After sourcing four of the massive metal boxes from the country's busy Caribbean port, Trejos stacked and slid them like puzzle pieces, creating a sunken gallery space and spacious rooftop terrace. 

Set on flat ground, the two-story structure ended up being much easier for Trejos to complete than a typically constructed home, saving roughly 20 percent of the cost of a standard concrete block design. "Designing with containers amplifies what I really like," says Trejos. "In terms of versatility, good taste and modern architecture, this is how I love to design." Trejos gave Dwell a run-through of the tropical live-work space, explaining why the rectangular raw material actually helped her create a building that perfectly suits her client's needs.

Who Knew a Relaxing Tropical Retreat Could Be Made of Shipping Containers? - Photo 1 of 10 - Trejos finished the roof with artificial grass, creating a terrace perfect for dinner parties as well as morning yoga sessions. The client's wife, a ballerina who teaches antigravity yoga, where participants are suspended from textiles, also made the suggestion to include the oversized cloth sails above the roof, a reference to her fitness routine.

Trejos finished the roof with artificial grass, creating a terrace perfect for dinner parties as well as morning yoga sessions. The client's wife, a ballerina who teaches antigravity yoga, where participants are suspended from textiles, also made the suggestion to include the oversized cloth sails above the roof, a reference to her fitness routine.

Who Knew a Relaxing Tropical Retreat Could Be Made of Shipping Containers? - Photo 2 of 10 - Trejos found that working with the containers was like playing with puzzle pieces. By arranging them in stacks of two and sliding the top containers, she created an interior courtyard and gallery space as well as terraces on the upper level. "Working with containers for the first time was a big challenge," she says, "but from the first draft on, it was an awesome experience. They already create space, so you just need to play with the puzzle pieces."

Trejos found that working with the containers was like playing with puzzle pieces. By arranging them in stacks of two and sliding the top containers, she created an interior courtyard and gallery space as well as terraces on the upper level. "Working with containers for the first time was a big challenge," she says, "but from the first draft on, it was an awesome experience. They already create space, so you just need to play with the puzzle pieces."

Who Knew a Relaxing Tropical Retreat Could Be Made of Shipping Containers? - Photo 3 of 10 - The firepole is an extra amenity the client always wanted to include in his home.

The firepole is an extra amenity the client always wanted to include in his home.

Who Knew a Relaxing Tropical Retreat Could Be Made of Shipping Containers? - Photo 4 of 10 - The stacked containers and inner courtyard, which wrap around a cedar tree, allow for plenty of natural sunlight, which helps illuminate the client's work on display in the main gallery space.

The stacked containers and inner courtyard, which wrap around a cedar tree, allow for plenty of natural sunlight, which helps illuminate the client's work on display in the main gallery space.

Who Knew a Relaxing Tropical Retreat Could Be Made of Shipping Containers? - Photo 5 of 10 - During construction, Trejos and her team had to trim part of the cedar tree. They utilized the excess wood for stairs and in other parts of the home, including the bathrooms.

During construction, Trejos and her team had to trim part of the cedar tree. They utilized the excess wood for stairs and in other parts of the home, including the bathrooms.

Who Knew a Relaxing Tropical Retreat Could Be Made of Shipping Containers? - Photo 6 of 10 - Trejos incorporated a variety of reused and recycled material into the project, such as shipping pallet tables, beds made from recyclyed plastic, and couches crafted in Costa Rica.

Trejos incorporated a variety of reused and recycled material into the project, such as shipping pallet tables, beds made from recyclyed plastic, and couches crafted in Costa Rica.

Who Knew a Relaxing Tropical Retreat Could Be Made of Shipping Containers? - Photo 7 of 10 - Trejos positioned the containers about 60 centimeters above the ground floor, which gives the main gallery and workspace a bit of a sunken feel. The double-level main room offers a spacious interior, perfect for large events and easily altered so it can be utilized as a photo studio for indoor shoots.

Trejos positioned the containers about 60 centimeters above the ground floor, which gives the main gallery and workspace a bit of a sunken feel. The double-level main room offers a spacious interior, perfect for large events and easily altered so it can be utilized as a photo studio for indoor shoots.

Who Knew a Relaxing Tropical Retreat Could Be Made of Shipping Containers? - Photo 8 of 10 - Sliding bamboo panels on the west side of the house can be adjusted to provide shade during the later part of the day.

Sliding bamboo panels on the west side of the house can be adjusted to provide shade during the later part of the day.

Who Knew a Relaxing Tropical Retreat Could Be Made of Shipping Containers? - Photo 9 of 10 - The slanted roof above the garage, painted white to reflect the heat in the tropical environment, also contains a solar heating system for water. The home also features a rainwater collection system, particularly useful during the long rainy season.

The slanted roof above the garage, painted white to reflect the heat in the tropical environment, also contains a solar heating system for water. The home also features a rainwater collection system, particularly useful during the long rainy season.

Who Knew a Relaxing Tropical Retreat Could Be Made of Shipping Containers? - Photo 10 of 10 - The kitchen, decorated with many of Pucci's prints, features a table Trejos designed.

The kitchen, decorated with many of Pucci's prints, features a table Trejos designed.