Photos by Jack Parsons Photography; Mary Estes contributed to this article.
Tim Palen’s rural residence in Joshua Tree, California is not just a container house, insists architect Walter Scott Perry, principal of Ecotech Design.
“HybridHouse 1 (his name for the structure) integrates containers into a system,” Perry says. Other components include a pre-engineered Butler building, 10,000-gallon water storage tank and a McNichols perforated aluminum canopy. Five containers, staggered and stacked two high, comprise the 900-sq.-ft. living space; the Butler building serves as Tim Palen’s photography studio. A steel frame connects the two structures and supports the perforated aluminum, which cuts glare and solar gain in half. A gap between the canopy and the building structure facilitates cooling.
Perry worked closely with Eric Engheben of 44 West Construction and structural engineer Leo Parker of Parker-Resnick. The 8’-long containers were fabricated in Los Angeles and trucked to the home site, complete with plumbing, electrical wiring, windows and finished walls. The canopy and a three-part insulation system buffer the home from the desert heat.
“The interior skin is totally separate from the building shell,” says Perry. One inch of blown-in foam seals gaps to create a complete thermal break between the container’s steel shell and light-gauge steel studs. Fiberglass batts and a half-inch insulated panel with radiant and vapor barriers bring the wall system to R-30, surpassing California code requirements by 50 percent.
The aluminum canopy, which shades the photo studio, breezeway and container dwelling’s roof and south face, also adds a dynamic architectural element.
“The material changes with the sun angle,” says Perry. “Sometimes it’s reflective; other times it’s transparent.”