///////Project Info

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CLIENT: Dwell magazine/Nathan Wieler and Ingrid Tung

SITE: Gently sloping clearing on heavily wooded multi-acre property

PROGRAM: Single-family residence: six PRO/con units for two bedroom suites, office, kitchen; living/dining/family and decks in space between

SIZE: 2,750 sq. ft.

COST: $250,000

COMPLETION: Spring 2003 (competition)

NOTES: Twenty ft. ISO standard containers and steel-framed prefab infill panels for roof and floor on driven steel piles; aluminum sliding glass door and solid door interior partition system

PROJECT TEXT: The Program Container (PRO/con) system uses the twenty-foot ISO shipping container as a basic building block to create an almost limitless variety of dwellings. The system takes advantage of the container’s unique fusion of structure and enclosure to provide cost- and time-savings during construction, and relies on the highly developed global infrastructure of the shipping industry to facilitate its storage, transport, and modification. In the PRO/con system package house, homeowners order fully outfitted individual program-specific containers, such as kitchens, baths, closets, home offices, and children’s rooms, which are shipped to the site and assembled together according to the homeowner’s preferences using the architect’s designs. While a PRO/con home can be arranged in any number of configurations to take advantage of local construction economies, the one shown here has been tailored to meet the specific needs of the clients. This residence therefore combines the production and cost efficiencies of factory fabrication with the specificity and flexibility of onsite construction.

The success of the PRO/con system is based on its acceptance of a “loose fit” between the factory-built units, their arrangement on the site, and local tolerances. This is in contrast to the traditional approach to modularity, which stipulates a level of exactitude that is rarely achievable in the field. By combining the containers with a prefabricated panel system of 8-by-20-foot panels that can be deployed for the floor, wall, ceiling, or roof, the space between the containers can serve as a generous open space or, as shown here, can be flexibly subdivided to provide a sunny and expansive master bedroom, living room, violin rehearsal space, and children’s den. Using transverse partitions that double as convenient chalkboards for creative inspiration, this large but divisible interstitial space is also capable of an infinite set of flexible options. For added convenience, the panels can be stacked in a shipping-container block for transport.

The PRO/con system is environmentally responsible. The adaptively reused discarded shipping containers sit lightly on the land. The whole structure is perched on friction piles that have a minimal impact on the site and allow the natural conditions to flow freely underneath. Heating and cooling are provided by a system of solar panels accessible by a roof deck also manufactured from the prefabricated panels. The containers can be stacked or minimized (as in the garage unit) to respond to specific climatic conditions, site contingencies, or the changing needs of its clients—challenging the impulse toward pocket-mansions and other wasteful schemes that seem to characterize so much suburban development these days. In addition to the expandability demonstrated here in the inserted children’s rooms, PRO/con can anticipate and accommodate secondhand or after-market container adaptations that could effectively recycle technologies and appliances otherwise constrained by planned obsolescence. In this way the dwelling could be considered to be continuously evolving: the loose modularity of the PRO/con housing system has no expectations for completeness that the user must either fail or chafe against.

From the ready-cut housing that supported western expansion at the turn of the century to the development of the 4x8 prefabricated panel that has propagated the American suburb since the 1940s, the dream of the factory-made house has been largely advanced through the agency of the module. However, despite the continued proliferation of modular units in construction, very few examples have been considered successful by both the market and by the designers. Most efforts fall within the limitations of overly rigid systems with a factory-determined flexibility and try to mask their modularity with flimsy suburban decorative frosting. The PRO/con system features the module, celebrating its harmonic proportions, geometric and material strength, and economic and environmental integrity—secure in the confidence that the result will be a better dwelling and enduring modernism.