Home in a Box: Cargo Container Dwellings

Story and photo by E.Q. Lam
July 5, 2011 

SAN FRANCISCO — Cargo containers—those giant, steel, rectangular boxes most often seen hitching a ride on a train, truck, or ship—hold a myriad of industrial goods. But now the shipping container itself is a house. Cargotecture is a modular home that is portable, off the grid, and made of recycled materials. HyBrid Architecture | Assembly designs sustainable living spaces in cargo containers and coined the term “cargotecture” to describe these novel structures.

“You can essentially press a button and order a house shipped to you—within eight weeks,” said Joel Egan, principal architect at HyBrid.

Rainwater HOG (rainwaterhog.com), a modular water storage system, can be added to the cargo container house.

HyBrid showed off its c192 Nomad model home at the recent Pacific Coast Builders Conference in San Francisco. The Nomad can last 400 years, Egan said. The firm focuses on maximizing the efficiency of the cargo container space. The Nomad dwelling spans eight feet wide, 192 square feet in all, and the price for its design and manufacture starts at $59,500. Customized options include solar panels, composting toilets, water collection decks, and additional doors.

“This represents the beginning of a system that we’re offering,” Egan said. “It’s sort of predesigned, but it allows different containers, different sizes—homes and offices—to plug into each other, to stack essentially like Legos [sic] any way the client wants to do it.”

Aside from being combined to create larger spaces, this sustainable dwelling can be an addition in the back yard as a home office or a guesthouse that sleeps up to four people. It can also be used as a self-contained vacation retreat in the mountains.

“This [Nomad model] is the first we’ve actually built in a factory,” said Peter Secan, HyBrid project manager.

HyBrid is located in Seattle, Washington, and has built cargotecture in Washington, Oregon, and California. Besides homes, cargotecture also includes commercial space. HyBrid has designed a 3,600-square-foot office building, Secan said, as well as townhomes and ski lodges.

“They’re engineered to go twelve floors high,” said Secan, adding that the dwellings are seismic fitted as well. “They’re fully capable of being earthquake safe.”

HyBrid researches, designs, and arranges the construction of cargo container homes.  In as little as eight weeks, a feasibility study can be completed, required permits can be obtained, and the dwelling can be built. The construction of the home itself takes three to four weeks, Secan said. The home is typically transported by truck from the factory to be installed at the designated site and can be relocated at any time.

The Nomad cargotecture home can function completely off the power grid. To be self-sustaining, the home can be designed with solar panels for electricity and water,  roof water collection, propane, and an above-ground septic system.

“You can get satellite and Wi-Fi …, “ said Egan. “So at that point, you have no utility bill, no address to send it to … . You can relocate it around the world.”

Take a tour of the c192 Nomad, Sunset Magazine’s 2011 Idea House, with HyBrid architect Joel Egan, to view the deck, full kitchen, ¾ bathroom, beds, storage space, and place holder for a clothes washer and a dryer:

Check out more articles by E.Q. Lam.

© 2011 SCGH, LLC. All rights reserved.


  1. Victor August 12, 2011
  2. Janice Norman February 5, 2012

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