Interview with the architect:
What did the client ask you for?
Friends of mine had a rural block in the Margaret River region. They wanted to put a more substantial home on the block using sea containers. I thought it was a great opportunity to do something creative that achieved their goals but could be something really special and beautiful to be a part of.
So we widened our thinking to consider a master plan, including channelling the natural springwater into a dam and planning future chalets in the surrounding bushland.
How does this sit within your overall view architecture and life?
I really feel that a building has to fit, not only into its surroundings but also to suit the nature of its owners. The owner of this property is a fairly handy guy with access to friends who had more specialised skills, as well as a whole lot of recycled materials. Things like reclaimed local Jarrah, double glazed window units, cladding etc. We wanted to put these resources and talents to good use so the palette of materials and building methodology evolved from what was immediately available.
How did you make the containers work for this build?
The logical structure would just be to place one container on top of the other, but we wanted to do something literally outside of that box. Right from the start I saw an opportunity to spread out on a site to create a sculptural building sat in a broader, natural context not contained within traditional suburban boundaries. So each container is articulated to stand partly alone, rather than as a stacked piece. They make great building blocks and with some modifications can accommodate any room. Spaces are also created between the containers and areas of the house slot into and around them.
Downstairs there are 2 dorms, upstairs the open plan living area leads to a huge elevated timber deck overlooking the dam. Linked off these spaces are 2 similar master pods with robes, bedrooms, master ensuite.
The containers are still identifiable in their original form. Why is that?
I never wanted to fully subvert the containers, I wanted to express them in some way so as to retain a trace of their original purpose. While the upstairs is clad in beautiful materials, downstairs you can still see the sea containers which pay homage to their origin. The front doors are actually the sea container doors which can lock up the whole place.
What were some of the challenges you faced in the design and build process?
There is a certain limitation that unaltered sea containers have based on their dimensions. We had to re-think how these worked in the context of a home. The modular nature forces you to get creative about how larger areas will work. Configuration and the linking of spaces that are atypical allowed new ideas to emerge. One of these is the cantilevered upper level of containers. This adds to the architecture rather than constraining it.
The structure was built by the owner rather than engaging a builder. This is sometimes a challenge in maintaining the integrity of the intended design, but although he didn't have a building background his passion and determination to take something potentially mundane and make the extraordinary was amazing. He got his hands dirty! But his meticulous execution and ability to stay true to the original vision has brought the design to life.
How do you feel about the resulting home?
I'm really pleased. It's an amazing showcase of a varied skills and like-minds coming together. The architectural design creates excitement and anticipation as you glimpse it through the bush-land on approach, where it sits like an elegant Ark in the landscape. From the minute a guest gets their first look, the desire to explore and see what's around each corner reveals so many unexpected vistas and surprises.
Do you think we will see more such homes in the future?
This type of design has a lot of potential. For a start you are reusing existing materials. They can be reused over and over again. Interest is increasing due to the practicality, low structural cost. They are capable of becoming well-insulated units with the right treatment. All the windows are double glazed. Speed of the build is another great benefit, the containers were craned into place all in one day. Obliviously fit-out took a lot longer. But it means that you could potentially create very affordable housing in a suburban context.
VillaFiona is Lanigan Architects first non-urban work.
Working with Tim on our concept for the Kaloorup Shipping Container House was a great experience. We had ideas, a scope, a budget and a lot of enthusiasm. Tim then helped us shape our concept into a project that has been a wonderful experience. His creativity and ability to experiment with an unlikely and unique project using mostly 2nd hand materials is a credit to him and also displays his versatility and patience. The end product is now something that our family cherish and enjoy every moment in. Would highly recommend Tim and when the next project comes along, he will be the first person we visit.
Steve and Fiona Hick.