Home Design: Beyond the basic box

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With help from Frank Lloyd Wright’s grandson, Eric Lloyd Wright, Three Squared hopes to show the world that shipping-container houses can be both practical and beautiful.

Patric Horn and Leslie Horn, brother and sister, and founders of Three Squared Inc. Photo: Three Squared

April 18, 2014

With help from Frank Lloyd Wright’s grandson, Eric Lloyd Wright, Three Squared hopes to show the world that shipping-container houses can be both practical and beautiful. Now that Malibu, Calif.-based Eric Lloyd Wright & Associates is leading Three Squared’s architectural vision, the San Diego company’s success seems assured.

According to CEO Leslie Horn, Three Squared is slated to build more than $1 billion in cargo-container projects over the next 36 months, both in the United States and internationally. Its flagship project, the Rosa Parks condominium complex, is now “shovel ready.” The 20-unit, four-story complex integrates 93 shipping containers and will include ductless heating and air-conditioning, tankless water heaters and other amenities that combine to reduce each home’s energy costs by 80 percent.

Containers save 60 percent of the framing cost and cut construction time in half. With a price tag as low as $900 each, used shipping containers offer a relatively inexpensive construction medium, says Horn. “Even when purchased new, the containers rarely cost more than $6,000,” she says. Three Squared’s patented Cargolinc ™ Systems are comprehensive three-step processes that accelerate sustainable construction with high-quality standards at a fraction of the cost.

Eric Lloyd Wright joined Horn to discuss the potential of this building method.


The Rosa Parks condominium complex consists of 20 residential units made out of 93 repurposed cargo containers. Illustrations: Three Squared

DI: Eric, you’ve been quoted as saying cargo-container construction is the next big thing in the U.S. building industry. Why do you feel that way?

WRIGHT: Cargo-container construction is by far the highest and best re-use of a product that has already been built, used and retired, making this methodology extremely sustainable. The beauty of this construction is that these containers already meet and exceed all building and safety codes, so we believe historians and architects of the future will see container construction as a logical result of our technologically driven, material world and our search for ways to find an appropriate balance between meeting our needs for shelter, energy and food, while reducing the negative impacts of our actions on future generations. We believe our work with Three Squared will be applauded by architects and historians, and more importantly validated by future inhabitants who love the spaces we create by reusing this valuable resource.

DI: What advantages does the Three Squared system have for residential construction? Are there specific housing niches for which the product is especially viable?

WRIGHT AND HORN: There have been previous explorations of making buildings using storage containers, with some interesting results. Three Squared is different [because it’s] committed to transforming the use of storage containers in buildings while focusing on affordability, sustainability and beauty. The systems used by Three Squared are most beneficial when used in multifamily, mixed-use and commercial construction, because they allow us to construct buildings [that go up] faster and [are] stronger and way more cost-effective.

DI: Eric, in your capacity as lead designer for Three Squared, what do you hope to accomplish?

WRIGHT: One of the shortcomings we’ve seen in other container-construction ideas is that most often they have not created a harmonious and beautiful outcome. Three Squared is working to change that. It’s not just that we will use recycled cargo containers in the construction of our buildings; we will also be striving for beauty and harmony with the site, the neighborhood and the material palette on every project. Our buildings will not feel like container boxes.

Yet, because we use recycled storage containers as our primary building blocks, our buildings will be inherently strong and durable while providing comfort and affordable luxury. This combination allows Three Squared to respond to the needs of many families who want to live a healthy life in beautiful, harmonious living spaces without paying a fortune. I’m excited to bring this technology and building methodology to mixed-use urban environments where beautiful, affordable living conditions are direly needed. Having my team be a part of this vision is in line with the way I live and create. I’m excited to include Three Squared as part of my legacy.

DI: Is cargo-container construction a concept that Frank Lloyd Wright would have embraced, in your opinion?

WRIGHT: He would look at it as a difficult challenge, but he would not be afraid to take the challenge. He would certainly embrace this concept. PB

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