rhotenberry wellen architects, midland, texas

Shipping container architecture is nothing new, but adapting the shells for living often undoes their built-in economy. With only minimal modifications, these serve as rugged guest cabins on a West Texas ranch. “We didn't want to leave a scar on that somewhat fragile landscape,” Mark T. Wellen, AIA, says of his solution. “If you disfigure the surface, the cacti and low shrubbery can take years to come back.”

The containers (one is for storage) were outfitted off site with a rear window and MDF floor, walls, and ceiling—almost like a cigar box. Then they were hauled in, two at a time, on an 18-wheeler and craned into place from the existing road.

Concrete footings for small piers were hand-poured, and floating roofs were popped on for shade. The jaunty roofs allow breezes to cool the units. “Most of our sun is overhead here, so they're largely in the shade,” Wellen says. When the containers are occupied, the big doors of each unit swing open and are strapped in place. Closed down, they're impervious to weather and wandering wildlife. What's more, they're a playful mirror image of the boxcars rolling by on distant tracks.

Down in the valley and 45 minutes from the closest town, the cabins are “a romantic and poetic folly. Great fun!” said a judge. “And it looks like it will last forever.”

principal in charge / project architect: Mark T. Wellen, AIA, Rhotenberry Wellen Architects
general contractor: Steve Ekstrom, Ekstrom Construction Co., Midland, Texas
project size: 800 square feet (combined)
site size: 3,500 acres
construction cost: $202 per square foot
photography: Hester + Hardaway.

product specs
bathroom fittings: Kohler Co.; bathroom and kitchen fixtures: Delta Faucet Co.; cooktop, hvac equipment: GE Consumer & Industrial; countertops: Wilsonart International: dishwasher: KitchenAid; doors, windows: General Aluminum Co. of Texas; flooring (wood): LP Building Products; garbage disposer: In-Sink-Erator; insulation: GAF Materials Corp.; kitchen fittings: Elkay USA; lighting fixtures: B-K Lighting, Hubbell Lighting; oven/range: Whirlpool Corp.; paints/stains/wall finishes: The Sherwin-Williams Co.; refrigerator: Sub-Zero; roofing: Corrugated Metals; steel supplier: Shamrock Steel