PREFAB FRIDAY: LOT-EK MDU Shipping Container House

by , 04/13/07

LOT-EK SHIPPING CONTAINER HOUSE, Lot-ek MDU, Mobile Shipping Container House, Lot-ek Architecture, recycled shipping container house, recycling shipping containers, reclaimed design, sustainable architecture, mobile architecture

It wouldn’t be a stretch to call LOT-EK one of the original pioneers of shipping-container prefab. Their Modular Dwelling Unit, a simple yet brilliant design, has now been on the scene since 2002, and serves as a great prefab archetype for an array of other module-based designs were now seeing gaining huge popularity and attention. The idea is simple: transform a single shipping container into a single dwelling unit that is complete in its flexibility, mobility, and scalability. Designed for the modern-day nomad, the MDU can easily be transported from one spot to the next, fully-loaded with all the live/work amenities you could ask for.

LOT-EK SHIPPING CONTAINER HOUSE, Lot-ek MDU, Mobile Shipping Container House, Lot-ek Architecture, recycled shipping container house, recycling shipping containers, reclaimed design, sustainable architecture, mobile architecture, lo-tek, lotek

Structurally, the MDU is a fully-functional, sturdy, and thoughtfully-constructed unit that combines both engineering prowess with design sensibility. The built-in furniture based system facilitates domestic functions from cooking and eating to more private spaces, storage, and leisure. As far as the interior goes, the space is divided into three sub-volume spaces to accommodate social, entertainment, and private functions. The potentially rigid space is actually quite hospitable, combining a long horizontal window in each of the sub-volumes with natural and brightly-colored plywood interior surfaces and fluorescent lighting. These simple construction method naturally lend themselves to multiple options and endless possibilities for customization.

Another inherent feature of such a modular construction approach is its multiplicity and potential to be stored and/or combined with other modules to create a larger-scale dwelling. Multiple MDU’s can be stored tiered steel racks that integrate elevators, stairs, power, data, water, and sewage systems to create a sort of plug-in-house infrastructure for the individual modules. We love LOT-EK’s description of the multiple MDU system:

“The vertical harbor is in constant transformation as MDUs are loaded and unloaded from the permanent rack. Like pixels in a digital image, temporary patterns are generated by the presence or absence of MDUs in different locations along the rack, reflecting the ever-changing composition of these colonies scattered around the globe.”

LOT-EK’s MDU is a great example of a singular prefab unit with far-reaching implications for larger-scale housing solutions. Combine that with colorful aesthetics, clean lines, and the reuse of industrial materials, and we’re sold.

Lot-ek first gained our attention with their recycled airplane fuselage library that generated a lot of excitement on Inhabitat back in 2006. However the Lot-ek office – led by the fabulously dynamic architecture duo of Ada Tolla and Guiseppe Lignano – does a lot more than just recycling old shipping containers and airplane fuselages. Lot-ek’s MO is to blur the boundaries between art, architecture, entertainment & information – rethinking the ways in which humans interact with industrial/technological culture.


+ Lot-ek Recycled Airplane Library

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  1. Paul D. Donovan July 11, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    This is a great idea but do have a concern. The container is only just so wide, how much do you lose when you properly insulate the unit? And how do the pop-outs stay secured during use? Also, when you leave for the day, is it possible to close the pop-outs into the main frame? This would make the stacked structure more stable during windy days and during possible earth quakes.

  2. RICHARD J WOODRUFF January 13, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    I am interested in how to retrofit these containers into a house as you do .This is a great idea

  3. David Curtis December 2, 2007 at 8:34 pm

    We’re using containers here in Florida from and there is no heating or cooling problem with them – they’re insulated so that any AC units will use less energy than most other forms of standard construction. They’re pretty much indestructable and way over code. They can withstand hurricanes and (depending on the requirements) they’re naturally waterproof and even float – so if care is taken when adding doors in certain cases they’re good in flood-zones – imaging all your things stored in one not getting damaged by flood. A container specifically set up for a family as a part of their home emergency flooding plan for survival could provide a place to shelter. Properly anchored with a suitable anchor chain or cable underneath would allow the container to float while everything else is under water. A sealed ceiling escape hatch would allow for an emergency exit when helicopters arrive, and posessions sealed inside would be safe and dry.

  4. brett humphrey November 11, 2007 at 2:47 am

    just want to know what room is oposite the bedroom and what are the small thin rooms.where is the main door and is it made out of the shipping contanier door thanks .

  5. barbara shaw October 27, 2007 at 11:32 pm

    i am very interested in seeing all your models, esp. ones with lots of glass and solar panels. could you email the pics. with price?

  6. RD September 9, 2007 at 11:43 am

    I checked out the stuff being done in Southern California and it looks like there is a lot of hype but only Demaria doing container projects. 3 of the projects are under construction and they have started a container based house company called LOGICAL homes. Saw an ad in Dwell magazine but the website is still a “sign up if you’re interested” page – bummer! With all the projects that are under construction, you have to believe that something is about to break.. Maybe for once and for all, someone has figured out how to do this container thing. The images of the completed project in Redondo Beach are impressive to say the least. It is a bold project but there is an understanding of scale and proportion relative to a residence. Only my opinion, but the Lotek modular dwelling unit looks too much like a funky trailer home. The exterior seems better suited for an electrical plant or some type of industrial setting. The interiors are nice but I think the work in California has attempted to “humanize” the container. If this doesn’t happen, I just don’t see anymore than a handful of container enthusiasts living in “souped up” metal boxes. All of this will unfold and be more informative once the other projects by Demaria are completed. I’m hoping that the Logical home stuff happens some time soon. I’m really excited about seeing what they have to offer. Also, I reviewed the Demaria website and a bunch of links, does anyone know anything else about Peter Demaria himself? His work is diverse and the containers appear to be one of many innovative ways that he sets himself apart from the Los Angeles architecture scene; any other info would be appreciated.

  7. Leon Ingerson August 30, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    The idea appears to be brilliant, until you investigate the costs of construction. I thought the original idea was to be “green” and rid our shipping docks of unwanted containers that no-one wanted. In that manner, we would reuse a readily available resource, and help the shipping companies dispose of “trash”. Instead, it appears the industry will be lead by the shipping company bean counters that are seeing an opportunity to provide these containers as a supply and demand commodity. In other words, the new value of their trash has not been lost on them, and they are now trying to recoup the origianal cost of the containers. The designers and architects are leaning toward two-story, with elevator, skylights. roll-up door side walls and any manner of expensive options. Instead of helping the poor, we will find a way to create a form of “poverty chic”, as people build several-hundred thousand dollar ego houses and brag about how they are doing it for the environment. Come on…build one that the average man can buy as a turn-key home for 40 or 50K. Build a small inexpensive unit than be subsisdized in placed areas with natural disasters. Yes, New Orleans, but also earthquake, mud-slides, forest fires and the like to assist those that are truly in need. And by all means…use the USED containers. If you do not, then you are not cleaning up the original problem. If this were done properly and at a reasonable price, I would gladly live in a 2-3 unit home built out of these, but I would want it on a foundation. If is not the banks will not regard it as anything more than a manufactured home, and will not finance them.
    The hot and cold seasonal issues could be solved by installing an insulation jacket in the summer to ward off the heat, and removing it in the winter to allow the sun to warm the metal. This would be especially beneficial in the northern Rocky Mountains, (where I would love to own mine)

  8. Tien Bryan July 9, 2007 at 7:21 pm

    Can these things be delivered worldwide?

  9. Derek June 21, 2007 at 10:11 am

    Has anyone thought about putting solar panels on the roof and a latticework on the sides for viney foliage? That should fix some heat issues and turn the heat into something productive and more self-sustaining. Or, you can place deciduous trees around so that the leaves fall of in winter to allow light in for heat and leaves would come in summer for shade. And, I’d place the narrow end facing east, near the master bed of course!

    Derek Clayton

  10. t,sreenivas May 30, 2007 at 3:58 am

    quiet interesting, i living in india, do you have any associates in india , i want to know more about the product.

  11. Mym April 29, 2007 at 7:22 am

    Are these available in Asia?

  12. Denis April 25, 2007 at 8:56 pm

    The containers, new cost $2600.00 for a 20 footer and $3600.00 for a 40 footer. These are insulated containers with about the same R value as most RVs. Global Portable Buildings, Inc takes new containers and builds them into new portable dwellings for a plug-in and play use. No foundation is required.


  13. Garth April 24, 2007 at 10:51 am

    Very interesting project! I’d say they missed the boat here on one thing though. Why not put a green roof on it? It would help with the heat gain of this large metal box and should be relatively easy to accomplish. I don’t know how much Lot-Ek’s container house cost but you can buy a container for under $2000…

  14. Graig Sterling April 19, 2007 at 4:40 am

    It is a very hip, exiting and intriguing architectural design by Lo-tek,the only problem is that when you go to their desynchronize website(no matter what i try their frame do not fit) the containers are not even featured (i can’t find them) also i cannot find the coast of these containers anywhere.Does anybody know the coast of the darn things
    Also Richie posted a e-mail for the demaria design ,again we have the same problem.I saw what look like a great design using the container concept on that website called :Hollywood Hills but no prices,Ritchie if you know could tell us.
    good luck to all.

  15. susan mills April 16, 2007 at 4:59 am

    A fantastic concept that has been around long before this company!!

    Another company that has been doing this the late 90’s is Container City. They seem to have loads of experience and hace created some veryt funky designs.

    For info their website is

  16. RaymaN April 15, 2007 at 6:00 am

    Great idea!

  17. Ann Garrison April 14, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    Maybe I missed it, but what do they cost—to buy and deliver? And, any need for a foundation? How would they di in an earthwuake? My guess is they’d just wash away in a flood, unless the owner had time to pack theirs up and get it to high ground in time/

    Also, does this website have some kind of ban on ‘where to buy” info? I was interested in buying some of that cardboard furniture on here the other day, but couldn’t locate info.

    But, whether or not I or anyon e else can find such info, is often a question of good Web design.

    Having spent a lot of last year volunteering and writing for a Bay Area newspaper in New Orleans, I would also like to see see a lot more hurricane design on this webstie. Sometime back I think I saw—either here or elsewhere—a housing design which was basically a house built on a boat hull that would simply rise if floodwaters came in. It would have been anchored, even as the levees held, but ready to rise and stay with the waters, but, hold its ground, so tto speak, if they didn’t., or if any 400-ton barges crashed through the levees, like the one that crashed into the Lower Ninth Ward.

    Is that design in Inhabitat’s aarchives? —–A.G.

  18. Richie April 14, 2007 at 10:26 am

    Buckminster Fuller once said that it takes new housing designs 50 years to become fully accepted by the public. Mabye that timeframe is speeding up now ? I hope so. Great shipping container designs are available now, and it would be a shame if they didn’t make more immediate impact. Used shipping containers are cheap, plentiful and sturdy building blocks that can be fabricated into great dwellings quickly.

    This Lot – EK shipping container design has been around for at least 2 or 3 years now. Until recently, one factor that probably held it back from sweeping acceptance is that it would be very warm to Hot inside. Also, because of various design factors… such as its use of heavy duty, customized, sliding rail systems… it’s not cheap. If it was set up to be mass produced, however, this Lot-EK design could probably be very inexpensive. So if mass produced, it could be a serious breakthrough product… especially so, if it utilized a cermaic coating developed by NASA ( , see paragraph 25) that Peter Demaria, of Demaria Designs in LA, used to overcome the broiler effect that can ensue when big steel boxes, AKA ‘shipping containers’, are left out in the hot Sun ! (see: ) So maybe now that containers can be cool to the touch in the hot – hot sun, they’ll find greater use in more and more completed housing ? That would be nice.

    Imagine this Lot-EK shipping container design sitting atop rubble filled gabions in flood zones, such as the Katrina devasted sections of New Orleans ? They’d be ‘Cool’, Cheap and withstand the forces of nature better than conventional stick frame built structures generally do. I’m pretty sure that shipping containers are designed to withstand 300 mile per hour winds ? Category 3 or 4 hurricanes, such as Katrina, have less than 175 mph articulating winds.

  19. Skiman April 13, 2007 at 11:53 pm

    think of these in a modular architecture, home, boat, rv/land transport ? then into a plane ?

    sounds like it could be almost limitless.

  20. leonie April 13, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    i *love* this idea! there’s also a whole bunch of them here: and there’s one in wellington, new zealand that we drive past quite regularly.

  21. fartles April 13, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    They named themselves after the underground society (living in shipping containers) run by Ice-T in Johnny Mnemonic.

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