South Seattle Shipping Container Office


Two shipping containers are getting a new life in Georgetown – as a backyard office for our busy client!

This project has been a long time coming, but it didn’t originally start out as a container structure. We first studied it as a garage remodel, but seismically unstable soil conditions prevented following through on this approach. We needed something that was intrinsically sound.

This project is driven by material reuse, living small, and building green. There exists a backyard garage/shed original to the 1928 house that the “remodel” scheme originally looked at building over with a timber “exo-skeleton”, and a “new” scheme replaced it entirely. But we needed to find a more economical, resourceful, geotechnically-stable, and environmentally-friendly option, and shipping containers hit the mark! Without the need for siding, roofing, or structure, this project saves three large budget numbers right off the bat; it even comes with flooring if you purchase a container in decent condition. We chose “one-trip” containers for this project so they weren’t new off the shelf, but haven’t been damaged by countless trips across the sea.

Having justified our choice of “material”, the most difficult part of the project began: research. Shipping container building isn’t taught in a classroom or in a textbook, and it is still scarcely available online. We relied on the help of a few local experts to get us started. Cantilevering the containers turned out to be much simpler than we anticipated; we were presented with only a few sheets of engineering plans and a handful of details for the entire project. The shipping container supplier will complete all steel modifications on site, i.e. window openings, steel strengthening, etc. before the containers are delivered, and the interiors can even be pre-fabricated so that once on site, only assembly is required!

A particular aspect of this property did indeed make the planning more difficult, yet provided its own solution. Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood is entirely within a liquefaction zone, meaning that during a seismic event the ground will liquefy and structures can be seriously compromised (Think: cars and homes halfway submerged in the ground after the soils re-solidify). All parties, including the city, wanted to make sure that life safety was guaranteed. The structural and geotechnical engineers designed a 18″ thick concrete mat slab that will effectively allow the structure to float relatively intact during any seismic activity. The fact that the shipping containers might once again “float” was not lost on us!

Complete with a green roof, this backyard office will be a respite away from the working world, while also fitting in with the industrial aesthetics of the Georgetown neighborhood. In the lower container, a side door leads to a bathroom with a shower and a kitchenette with a view of the green urban jungle that our owner meticulously maintains in his backyard! The south side of the container will be an unheated storage space accessed by using the actual container doors. The upper container is accessed by an exterior stair and small deck. From the deck you can either climb to the upper roof deck to tend the gardens or enter the upper container: a full-length office space, surrounded by warm-toned birch ply walls.

Not surprisingly, not every project has the need, desire, or property available to build a 2-story cantilevered shipping container in their backyard; we’re quite excited to see the final product! Stay tuned for photos as the project takes shape in the real world. Construction is expected to start February 2018.


Capitol Hill Contemporary

CTA is just about done with a major remodel and addition to a humble 1900s Queen Anne-style home in the Central District. The long-time owners were ready for their house to match their upbeat lifestyle while also come up-to-speed with energy codes and to reinforce its structure so that this centenarian will keep functioning for the next 100 years. The complete transformation brings in an abundance of natural light, bright and classic materials, and a touch of steel for a clean, contemporary feel to this historic home. The last remaining work is finishing up the landscaping and fence at the front yard. Now that both front and rear steel canopies have been installed, it’s nearly complete! 

The original home is considered a Queen-Anne “Free” style house, which is a cousin to the Queen Anne Spindle style known for its elaborate detailing. The QA Free is more modest, characterized by a long, covered entry porch, quaint entry vestibule, and multiple small rooms that are closed off from one another to allow for receiving guests while private areas of the house are kept out of sight. We took these elements and developed a plan to retain the historic features of the house that the clients loved, while updating others with a contemporary twist. See below for a “before” picture of the house for comparison.

The first measures taken in this remodel were to intervene in the deteriorating structural system: the house was essentially a rhomboid – in other words, a parallelogram on all sides – leaning in two directions and being pulled downward by the obsolete chimney. We ratcheted the house to be plumb and square, installed hold downs and shear walls for permanent stability, and tied the rest of the house to the foundation. Other upgrades included tearing down many of the first floor walls for an open-concept living space and replacing them with steel I-beams running the length of the house. The front porch roof was also removed in the process due to its poor state of disrepair.

Next came energy upgrades; we replaced all windows with code compliant insulated glass, installed roof, floor, and wall insulation where needed and where there was none, and installed a new mini-split HVAC system designed for the new heating load (far lower than the original due to the new insulation). Worth a whole topic in itself, the building envelope was completely intact from the original construction, meaning the house did not have any structural sheathing or bracing, and the budget didn’t allow for residing AND re-sheathing the home. For those ArchiNerds out there, the wall section was a solid T&G ship lap siding in perfect condition, attached to studs, with gypsum attached at the interior – that’s it! This was an issue in itself, and became quite a detailing challenge when it came time to install the new windows. The end result included installing specialized building wrap on the INSIDE of the siding to protect against air and water infiltration, with new insulation and drywall throughout.

Our design intent was to transform this turn of the century home into a bright, contemporary entertaining space. We installed wide doors at the front and rear of the house that opens up their new deck to their double depth backyard and their front porch to their enclosed garden. The historic covered porch has been reimagined with the glass canopy at the front and rear to allow for indoor-outdoor entertaining in any weather. A two-story rear addition added room for a full master suite with a walk-in closet and deck off the master bedroom, along with a guest room and den in the existing upper floor. Care was taken to preserve the historic elements of the interior: baseboard and trim were given generous widths to match the existing style, the original fir floors were refinished upstairs and down, and the original staircase and newel post were refinished to call out the real history of the home. Historic elements were contrasted with new to create a wonderful contemporary space with a sincere acknowledgement of its unique past.

We look forward to taking a couple more photos once the owners have had a chance to settle in, and once the entry canopies are in place, so we can truly show off this contemporary transformation!

Update on CTA’s work in Haiti

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Our Architects Without Borders project, a large campus-style secondary and trade school outside of Cabaret, Haiti, is coming to a conclusion! 

We’ve been working for over a year to provide drawings and images for the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, our client and current administer of eight other schools throughout Haiti.  These images describe a large, rural, 3,000 student campus-style secondary and trade school.  The program includes classroom buildings, science labs, and shop space, along with dormitories, a chapel, auditorium, and cafeteria.  

Community and sustainability are hallmarks of this project – fundamental ideas inherent in the campus layout that impact the landscape and building designs. 

Such a school would provide a continuous stream of graduates, bringing the benefits of an educated population into the community, affecting both the immediate area of Cabaret, and Haiti, country-wide.  It is our hope that these drawings will help the Brothers describe their vision of this community to potential partners and funders.

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The drawings show a campus arranged in identifiable and interconnected communities, drawing on historical “lakou” arrangements found in rural Haiti.  The architecture further shows buildings and a landscape utilizing sustainable design concepts.  Our project aims to revitalize the landscape; to capture and direct water with streambeds and cisterns; to provide learning and engagement opportunities to students, staff, and guests. 

Buzz is the Project Manager for the project, aided by a competent and committed team of volunteers.  CTA Design Builders is pleased to have provided meeting space and support services.

Please feel free to view the project below.  The introduction explains our goals and identifies our team members, and the following pages present the project in terms of what we have to work with, how we will do it, and what it all will look and feel like.

  Concept Package for Canado school in Caberet, Haiti

New Home in the San Juan Islands: Ready for Living!

New Home in the San Juan Islands: Ready for Living!

We love our new home!

We spent a lovely day last week visiting our Island Cabin and celebrating its completion with the contracting team and very happy owners. This new Northwest style home is virtually ready for move-in; the construction process has gone exceedingly well and has taken a little under a year from start to finish.

Our role in this project has been as architect only; as Seattle Design Builders, the distance was too far for us to build this new home as we normally do. Instead, Marion Speidel of Mud Bay Builders provided construction services.  What a fantastic job she and her crew have done! Have a look at the photos below to get an overall idea of the architecture and interiors, and the level of craft and detail!

Check out the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau

Before Architecture can help

Architects Without Borders: Before Architecture Can Help

We’re Seattle architects working on a new school project in Haiti, in a particularly underserved community. As part of the Architects Without Borders team, we itch to get started designing, but we realize that we live such a different life here we must know what it’s like living there, to work there, to go to school there.  We don’t want to design a school for North America and plop it down in the middle of a different and unaccepting world.  So as we learn, we begin to see that we have to back up, way up, to the point where the basics are not what we’re used to, they are survival:  we have to understand such things as where the CLEAN water is going to come from, what to do with human wastes, how we can provide electrical power, how and by whom the school would get built, etc.  As idealists, we think of municipal services providing water, not digging a well on site, away from contaminants; we think about composting toilets, but we have never cleaned one; we think of photovoltaic electric not realizing how much cheaper a generator and some gasoline is; we think the community will pitch in with their sweat equity, but we’re not working earning $7-12/day and having to decide whether to feed our family or build a school… First things first, and as we solve these problems, we’ll move on to designing a school.

Here is a great article about our experience: Haiti Rebuilding Effort – AWB

Lodge House

Approaching the lodge house…

there’s a sense, an architecture of timelessness, something that’s been here for a while and something that will be for a while yet, a place to sit by the fire under the structural timbers. The new house is in the woods with a long view capturing Puget Sound, so lots of windows to take in the light and to see out through the trees to the view. There are shed overhangs so you’re protected from the rain, a metal roof to cast off the inevitable tree debris, a mudroom for your boots & shoes, an open loft with a cathedral ceiling so the upper and lower spaces can relate with a touch of drama! There’s also a master suite plus two bedrooms with an unfinished basement. Construction is expected to commence this fall, 2012.

Info on The San Juan Islands

More updates on our Lodge House coming soon

Island House Update March

Island House Update March

I had a wonderful visit to the island house this week and was thrilled to see such exciting progress on our new house design. The construction crew is a terrific team of skilled craftsmen, and exudes real enjoyment in their work. The owners are living in the tiny original cabin right next to the new house site, so they keep the carpenters happy with coffee and treats every morning. Can’t beat that: along with an exquisite view from their workplace, who wouldn’t want to have that job?!

We walked through the house interior with the electricians, deciding on exact locations for lights and switches. The interior is in a state of open stud walls right now. All the rooms are there, but you can see through the studs! In a few cases, framing required that we lay out our lights a little differently than the plans showed, but overall we were quite happy with the results. Laying out the lighting on-site like this is a critical step in the construction process.

The next few weeks will see the electrical and plumbing rough-in work completed. After that, insulation goes in and we can look forward to sheetrock. That will REALLY look and feel different!