In 2008, I assigned a design project to construction management students in a degree-required class I teach at Michigan Technological University, Building Methods and Materials. The learning goals of the assignment were threefold: 1) comprehension of the architect or designer’s role in the building delivery process; 2) experience in converting building program into design; and 3), application of building knowledge gained in the classroom and lab. The design challenge was to transform two semi-trailers into a single family dwelling.
Semi-trailer ConversionSolar water heating integrated with wood and natural gas to meet hot water needs. Windows placed to best advantage for solar gain, natural lighting and venting, and views.
The project evolved from my intrigue with the redesign of mobile homes into durable and affordable sustainable housing. The reuse of a semi-trailer body seemed like an interesting extension of that investigation. The exterior skin of these units is weather-tight and designed for minimal maintenance. The unitized construction can withstand the roof, floor, and lateral stresses expected in a residential structure and is adaptable to pier foundations. By selecting a foam-insulated “reefer” unit designed to transport perishable goods, the renovation begins with some insulation on all sides. The major constraints are the narrowness of the floor plan (8’ wide or less) and limited variation in volumes without major modification.
As the instructor, I provided my own interpretation of the assignment.
- Combine two 48’ long x 8’6” wide x 8’6” high “reefer” semi-trailer bodies and 144 ft2 maximum of additional conditioned space into a single family residence
- Interview prospective owners to develop the building program: a two-person household with “green” values, a minimalist outdoorsy lifestyle, and a strong artistic aesthetic
- Incorporate sustainable methodology: energy, material, and water efficiency; on-site energy production; preservation of the site
- Make best use of the site: rocky, wooded, good southern exposure, and a dramatic streamside bluff in Houghton, Michigan
- Design for mobility impaired accessibility: single story, wider passageways, and ramped entrances
- Develop a site plan, floor plan, 3D model using SketchUP, and general construction concepts