Sure it's a bit dated... but in 2007 the University of Colorado students built a Shipping Container Home for the Solar Decathlon competition.
Our house design is based on a modular and prefabricated engineering spine. The spine, formed by conventional shipping containers, provides structure and life support. Programmatically, it comprises the kitchen, laundry, bathrooms, and equipment spaces, and includes the building electrical service and all plumbing and HVAC systems. In our specific design, there are two shipping containers – the competition module includes a container for the kitchen, bathroom, and systems area, while the second container houses the laundry, master bathroom, and guest bathroom. While conventional homes typically have HVAC registers or baseboard heaters along the outside walls, a well-insulated house with high-performance windows does not require heating and cooling at the perimeter. By centralizing the HVAC system within the spine, heating and cooling loads can be met with smaller pressure losses, less air leakage, and lower material costs. By locating all equipment in the spine, the system can be prefabricated, minimizing or eliminating the need for mechanical contractors at the construction site.
The engineering spine offers the opportunity for modular mass production. We are using surplus shipping containers, though conventional construction methods could also be used. In any case, the spine elements include standard configurations of high-value kitchen and bath spaces while allowing a selection of custom cabinetry and fixtures by the owner. Prefabricated, wired, and plumbed, these containers can be shipped directly to the construction site where they are connected to the home’s electrical service, water main, and sewer.
While we take advantage of modularity and factory methods for the high-value portions of the building, our design does not seek to prefabricate the entire house. Rather, our approach provides architectural flexibility in the design of the building exterior shape and envelope system, avoiding the cookie-cutter sameness of conventional modular housing. In our design, the walls and roof of the house can take any form and use any appropriate construction material. With proper engineering, the spine can also be used for structural support.