When a client approached Bruno Zaitter with a request for a minimalist and sustainable getaway in Brazil’s Balsa Nova, the Brazilian architect and professor decided that cargotecture would be the perfect fit for the brief. Proving that less can be more, the architect upcycled a secondhand shipping container into a relatively compact 538-square-foot abode with a bedroom, bathroom, living and dining area, kitchen and an outdoor terrace. Most importantly, the structure, named the Purunã Refuge, immerses the client in nature with its large glazed walls that embrace panoramic views in all directions.
Protected on the west side by a lush native forest, the Purunã Refuge is set at the foot of a geographical fault called Escarpa Denoviana and enjoys privacy, immersion in nature and views of the city skyline beyond. The project, completed in 2016, draws on Zaitter’s experience with recycling shipping containers into contemporary structures. As with its predecessors, the Purunã Refuge is elevated off the ground for reduced site impact.
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Raised 3 meters off the ground and accessible by outdoor stairs, the dwelling features a 12-meter-long container — comprising the sleeping area, a portion of the kitchen, the entrance and the bathroom with a soaking tub — that has been extended by two glass-enclosed volumes on either side. The larger of the two boxes houses the living and dining area as well as office space; the smaller box is a bump out of the kitchen that extends into the forest. Stretching northwest to southeast, the Purunã Refuge is accessed from the north side, which leads up to an outdoor terrace.
“The project’s concept was to group the essential universes of human life — eating, sleeping, sanitizing, working and socializing — in a space of about 50 square meters with the greatest possible contact with the surrounding natural landscape,” Zaitter explained. “The biggest challenge was convincing people who still believe that large space equals comfortable space, and that small space is uncomfortable space. The refuge proved that less is more.”
Photography by Sergio Mendonça Jr. via Bruno Zaitter
It's an interesting building. But shipping containers are a foolish way to build. By the time you cut holes for windows and doors, figure out how to insulate and air seal, get around space limitations (around 8 feet wide and 20 or 40 feet long) it is cheaper and better to use more typical techniques and materials.