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Passively-cooled Caterpillar House built from shipping containers


July 3, 2013

Caterpillar House is located on a hillside just outside Chile's capital city Santiago (Photo: Sergio Pirrone)

Caterpillar House is located on a hillside just outside Chile's capital city Santiago (Photo: Sergio Pirrone)

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The use of shipping containers in residential builds is quite popular nowadays, and with good reason: there are untold numbers of the waterproof and durable metal boxes available, so why not put a few to good use? With this in mind, the latest such dwelling to grab our attention is Casa Oruga, or Caterpillar House, by Chilean architect Sebastián Irarrázaval, which also features passive cooling.

Caterpillar House is located on a hillside just outside Chile's capital city Santiago, and boasts views of the Andes Mountains. The decision to use shipping containers as a primary building material derives from a desire to both speed up construction time, and reduce the overall cost of the project.

The property measures 350 sq m (3,800 sq ft), and comprises a total of 12 used shipping containers: five 40-foot (12-m) units, six 20-foot (6-m) units, and one open-top shipping container, which serves as a swimming pool.

Owing to the owner's wishes for Caterpillar House to blend in with the scenery as much as possible, some sections of the home slope with the hillside. This results in an unusual interior layout, with each of the children's rooms sporting an inclined nook, where the bed is placed. The shipping containers were also modified with multiple windows, skylights and adjoining pieces.

Rather than incorporate an energy-guzzling air conditioning unit, Caterpillar House features passive cooling. The home was arranged so as to make full use of the cool natural air coming down from the mountains, which passes through windows, doors, and a ventilated facade.

Perhaps the designers missed a trick here, as a greater degree of sustainable technology could have reduced the home's energy requirements down to a very modest level indeed. Regardless, it's certainly a desirable example of a shipping container-based home as it stands.

Caterpillar House was completed in 2012.

Source: Sebastián Irarrázaval via Arch Daily

About the Author
Adam Williams Adam scours the globe from his home in North Wales in order to bring the best of innovative architecture and sustainable design to the pages of Gizmag. Most of his spare time is spent dabbling in music, tinkering with old Macintosh computers and trying to keep his even older VW bus on the road. All articles by Adam Williams

This is just... Wow!

Everdeep Naga

I'm not sure how warm the climate is there but I'd be curious what it's like inside a shipping container in the hot sun without AC. I imagine it being a lot like getting in my car after its parked in the sun with the windows up.


Despite the use of shipping containers, this house had to be expensive to build with all the structural steel and concrete AND it's built on a slope. It looks interesting but sterile. I wonder how well the passive cooling works on a hot still day?


What was the cost of construction? Are more planned? What did it sell for? What was the lot size? Distance from the city? Can I get one built?

I might buy a lot at Galt's Gulch, 45 minutes outside Santiago on the way to the ocean.

Don Duncan

The advantages of using shipping containers as your construction building blocks include:

They are inexpensive. A used container will cost between $800 and $6000 each, depending on size, age, condition and distance from the building site. Each 40 foot container gives you 320 square feet. They generally cut overall construction cost by 20-50%.

Energy concerns. It takes far less energy to reuse shipping containers in a building than to melt them down and reform then into steel beams. Add solar panels and even the ongoing energy use will be green.

Je Peoples

That looks pretty cool for a unique house. I would like to see inside it fully though? I wonder if that house is mobile? Can I move it like a trailer home? How much would it cost to buy?

Bryan Flake

I have seen a company shipping containers to Chile: http://usgshipping.com/index.php/shipping-to-central-and-south-america/shipping-to-south-america/shipping-to-chile-from-usa

Very cool Article..

Sammy Taghavi
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