Container House: A Family Residence Outside of Stockholm

Måns Tham Arkitektkontor

Architects: Måns Tham Arkitektkontor
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Area: 150.00 m2
Year: 2021
Photography: Staffan Andersson and Thomas Jacobsson

This family residence was built from eight assembled 20′ and 40′ re-used, high cube shipping containers. The house is built on a steep lot next to a lake, outside of Stockholm. There was a ban on dynamite for the site and there was no room for a slab, just a steep canyon where a lot of rainwater flows toward the lake. That is why the house stands on pillars and is light on the terrain. The structural walls of the containers allowed the upper level to be larger than the entrance-level footprint. This way, the building adjusts to the V-shaped natural canyon of the site. The clients, a truckdriver and a therapist with three kids, built the house mostly by themselves with help from their father and father-in-law, a skilled welder who used to run a mechanic’s workshop. The interior is a composition of rare finds and re-used building components.

A shipping container is not a great starting point for a home because of its narrow width: 2.4 m. Also, as soon as you take out any part of the corrugated walls between two containers to make a wider room, they lose their structural strength. Therefore, we had to put a lot of effort into deciding which walls to cut and which to save so that we could use the containers with as little additional structure as possible.

The husband worked for a demolition company and is an avid mechanic with a love for old, customized American cars. Re-use and alteration became the way to build the house, much in line with the custom car culture. Salvaged from demolition sites around Stockholm, components like timber planks, metal boards, staircases in wood and steel, and parts of old kitchens were re-used and installed after slight modifications.

Each architectural detail was drawn directly from the raw material that was found. Trust and dialogue rather than standard solutions characterized the building process, which included many discussions on site between the architect, client/builder and structural engineer. Quick hand drawings complimented the drawing set.

The original proposal and plan were never changed, however. In a house scheme, the plan drawing and the flow of the plan, the ability to always walk towards light and to have surprising views and diagonals, is very important, whether you are building a container house or a wood frame house. This is a modest home for a family with three kids, so each square meter had to be planned carefully.

The entrance level has a den and a guest bedroom, a laundry room, and the master bath with a view.

The upper level has a living-dining room and terrace towards the view and bedrooms in the back towards the forest. The top container has two functions: as a look-out mezzanine where the kids can find solitude but still be around, and also as a light shaft that brings the midday sun into the north-facing living room. Even though the harsh site faces north, the living-dining room is flooded with direct sunlight and the roof terrace has a great evening sun location.

The upper level is connected to the pine forest behind the house by a free-spanning eight-meter steel truss sky-bridge. The rectilinear world of stacked containers meets the natural form of the hillside. The house stands on steel columns on concrete plinths. This eliminated the problem with large amounts of rainwater that flow down the steep hillside. This is very explicit during heavy rains, seen from the lower bathroom. It has one big window facing the Zen-like view of the canyon rock at the back side of the house. A small openable window to the left makes it possible to hear the birds outside when taking a bath.

The subdividing mullions of each window, together with exterior add-ons that were needed to make the containers up to code (such as railings, chimneys and water dispensers) were all designed to give the house its own logic and proportions. A composition that dissolves and goes beyond the absolute symmetry of shipping containers.

There is a point where the stacked containers, with everything that is added and modified, cease to be containers and instead become an assembled building fixed in a landscape. This point interests me and guided me through the many design challenges with the house.