Anyone who follows architectural trends has witnessed the evolution of the lowly shipping container into a sort of panacea to the industry’s call to reuse and repurpose building materials. These crude, inexpensive building blocks have been transformed into
luxurious homes, hip coffee shops, and corporate spaces, as well as the
go-to solution for affordable housing challenges. What’s not to love?
For starters, retrofitting a shipping container for occupancy isn’t as easy
or cheap as it may first appear. When factoring the costs of site preparation,
assembly, insulation, HVAC, lighting, plumbing, etc., the price of an average
container home is $184,000 before shipping and land costs, according to
a CNNMoney article. Additionally, from a structural engineering standpoint,
shipping containers are designed to withstand deflection, or the degree to
which a structural element is displaced under a load, which is ideal for
transporting goods but not for the stability required in housing construction.
So, while the shipping container model is certainly a viable (and in many
ways noble) one, it clearly isn’t without limitations or complications.
When a client requested Los Angeles-based Delta H Design, Inc. (DHDI)
to design a ZR Acoustics recording studio as a shipping container, the firm set
out to study the popular prefab concept and improve upon it. Being in close
proximity to one of the world’s largest ports in Long Beach, Calif., proved
serendipitous, as it afforded DHDI the ability to conduct extensive research on
shipping containers firsthand, according to Principal and CEO Hanson Hsu.
“We did a great deal of research on the structure, construction, water-
proofing, and thermal natures and properties of shipping containers,”
Hsu explained. “What we discovered, besides the fact that it was a revolutionary
design that changed the world of commerce as we know it, is that it isn’t
necessarily the best for architecture because the cost to retrofit it and the
amount of materials and labor it takes to actually turn a shipping container
into a viable, permitable life-safe structure is actually not worth it. You might
as well just build a new structure.”
He noted he has never been a fan of prefabricated construction because
so much of it comes off as unattractive, rickety, and cheap. So in working on
the ZR Acoustics studio project, Hsu did what any innovator would do: he
took an existing idea and improved upon it to create Nomad Arc, a ground-
breaking, elegant line of environmentally conscious structures designed to
cultivate freedom and flexibility.
“We basically used the concepts of the modularity [of shipping containers],
16 interiors+sources november2017 interiorsandsources.com
By Robert Nieminen | Renderings courtesy of DHDI
Nomad Arc elevates the prefab construction model, proving that beauty, durability, and mobility can peacefully coexist.
➤ continued on page 18
Because of the open, loft design it can be fitted
with cubicles or offices ... leaving flexibility
for applications in both commercial and
—Hanson Hsu, principal and CEO, Delta H Design, Inc.