It’s been a while since I’ve checked in with Matthew Coates, principal of Bainbridge Island, Wash.-based “responsible architecture” firm Coates Design Architects and builder of stunning, green-roofed doghouses. The force behind the Ellis Residence, the first LEED Platinum home in Washington outside of Seattle, and deeply sustainable stunners such as the Perilstein and Dorsey Residences, Coates is now branching out into shipping container homes. Well, kind of.
Yes, Coates’ latest venture, Eco-Pak, does involve the use of reclaimed shipping containers, but in a manner that’s much different from what you’d expect. While most shipping container homes, for better or worse, are essentially cargo units renovated into habitable living spaces, Eco-Pak revolves around repurposing the giant boxes as delivery vessels that contain all of the structural components needed to build a house with no special tools or skills required. And, of course, the container itself is fully integrated into the home acting as a living room, bedroom, etc. so no need to return it after its contents — the extended framework of the home — have been removed.
Explains Coates:
Container houses, where the dwelling is essentially the interior of the box have been around for quite a while. There are two basic reasons why those types of shipping container houses haven’t seen the success some have envisioned…firstly, they were designed to ship cargo — not to be lived in. They are uncomfortable even claustrophobic spaces.  Secondly, they are costly to modify and eventually the cost-benefit ratio falls apart. It’s just too expensive to retrofit a container to be a nice space. 
​What we are doing is entirely different ... It’s one thing to decorate the inside of a shipping box, but it’s a completely new idea to use the box as structure as well as a vehicle for delivery of a home’s structural parts.
The initial concept was actually developed by Certified Toolmaker and airframe structural engineer James Green of Building Container, LLC. Green came up with the idea when building a home on a remote site in Turkey where pouring a concrete foundation was prohibited. Explains a press release: “Using a shipping container, the conventional concrete foundation was replaced with removable frames to support the container and extended framework, forming the structure for the house.”
Coates and Green plan to complete with first stateside steel-framed Eco-Pak prototype home by early 2013 in the Seattle area and eventually plan to extend the house-in-a-container concept to various markets: affordable housing, emergency housing, off-the-grid housing, and luxury housing. I'll be keeping an eye out for developments as they happen.

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