James Whitaker proposes cluster of shipping
containers as an affordable workplace


These renders by London architect James Whitaker depict a proposal for a low-cost studio space in Germany comprising a cluster of shipping containers, which are arranged to direct sunlight into the interior at different times of day (+ slideshow).

Whitaker developed the concept in 2010 while working as a photographer, after he was approached by an advertising agency interested in building a workspace in the Black Forest near the town of Hechingen.

Hechingen Studio across the Landscape by Whitaker Studio

The agency closed before the project could be realised but Whitaker recently created some detailed renderings to promote his studio's move into digital imagery production.

The client had originally requested a design using shipping containers to reduce its cost, which formed the basis for the architect's suggestion to cluster the metal boxes in a radial composition.

Hechingen Studio across the Landscape by Whitaker Studio

"The inspiration for the design came from crystal growths in a science laboratory and the eleventh-century castle that overlooks Hechingen," Whitaker told Dezeen.

Hohenzollern Castle, which was reconstructed in the 19th century by King Frederick William IV of Prussia, is positioned on top of a hill near the town and features an ornate arrangement of towers in the Gothic Revival style.

Hechingen Studio across the Landscape by Whitaker Studio

The verticality of the castle's turrets is evoked in the steeply sloping forms of the containers, which would be directed to track the path of the sun as it travels across the sky.

Before the project was halted, Whitaker had sourced a supplier for the containers in Rotterdam and a metal fabricator in Hamburg that would adapt the structures so they could be bolted together on site. The bases of the cantilevered boxes would be fixed to the tops of the lower containers to anchor them and prevent them tipping forward.

Hechingen Studio across the Landscape by Whitaker Studio

Daylight would be funnelled through the complex roof design into a central meeting area, surrounded by workspaces accommodated within the spoked single-storey interior. The structure would be raised above the ground on concrete pillars.

The proposal was created for a rural site outside the town but Whitaker believes the design could be located anywhere. He added that he would like to work with a new client on developing the project further for a different site.

Hechingen Studio across the Landscape by Whitaker Studio

Whitaker also explained that his move into the world of computer-generated imagery has been informed by his experiences as a photographer and his understanding of how light, shadows and reflections alter the appearance of a building.

"In many ways visualisations and photography are very similar," he said. "A good photograph should seduce the viewer and intrigue them to find out more; it should draw them in and trigger an emotion. Visualisations are just the same, and as such I approach them in the same way that I approach photographs."

Hechingen Studio across the Landscape by Whitaker Studio

"With visualisations you can approach the image as you would a photo shoot in a studio," the architect added, "manipulating the light and the materials to achieve exactly the moment you are seeking. The key then becomes bringing in that element of serendipity – making the image feel human and triggering an emotion."

Hechingen Studio across the Landscape by Whitaker Studio
Floor plan – click for larger image
Hechingen Studio across the Landscape by Whitaker Studio
Plan – click for larger image
Hechingen Studio across the Landscape by Whitaker Studio
Section – click for larger image
  • Kev

    I call bullsh*t. There is no way in hell that you can stack and cantilever containers like that without a load of structural steel. All the strength is in the ends and the corners, you cut bits off and they’ll fold like a soda can.

    • Kate

      “Structural feasibility” – Can’t find that in a pull-down menu in my rendering programme…

  • WaxWing

    Unless you wrapped the entire thing in a waterproof membrane and clad it in something else it looks like a leaky, detailing nightmare.

  • I need to question how affordable this really is.

    Using a shipping container verses all new construction is not quite as cost effective, considering the labor cost. And that is in a conventional orthogonal layout. In this particular case, you add quite a lot of cost by stacking the containers as pictured, so the affordability factor is pretty much gone.

    Additionally, consider the cost of the added structure. The open space in the middle cannot be supported by the containers alone, which are cut to fit. I’d say, this is quite pricey. It might be cheaper to just build as new structure.

  • Kevin McGrath

    Looks great. Pity it’s just not structurally feasible or wise to do this with shipping containers! Save yourself a lot of trouble and just build it without them.

  • The story is cost

    If the argument behind the project is cost, how much is it?

  • SteveLeo

    That’s one of the least affordable things you can do with ‘affordable’ shipping containers.

  • pronto

    There are certain projects that can inspire and awe us, and you can feel it. This one brings hopelessness and sadness to today’s design profession.

  • Byzantian

    What a marvellous use for old shipping containers. Now how about a Kurokawa-style Nagakin capsule building?

  • David

    Nice renderings, but I don’t think they’d last in reality.

  • LocoCabasa

    Now that is cool. There is something about shipping containers that sparks the imagination: So many creative ways to humanize the ubiquitous box. One practical problem with this design, though, is dirt and debris collecting in the V-shaped intersections.

    • interested viewer

      One of the best employment or concept utilising shipping containers.

  • Ronnie Pistons

    Cool, but a bit too artsy for my taste.

  • Benjamin Bejbaum

    VitraHaus is not so far…