Amagansett Modular House features compelling and uncluttered rooms while achieving budget goals

MB Architecture‘s clients, a couple with 3 children, had purchased a triangular, wooded, corner lot on high ground in Amagansett, NY and contacted the architects to explore means of building a house for their summer and year-round-weekend use. The site is constricted due to its shape, but, due to its elevation, affords beautiful sunset views and light. Programmatically, MB were asked to provide 4 bedrooms, 3 shareable bathrooms, kitchen and living spaces; plus, outdoor eating and recreation areas and a pool; and enough lawn area to play games.

More critically, the clients had a limited budget—significantly below prevailing construction costs. They were open to exploring materials, methods of construction, and design strategies that would yield both affordable and exciting solutions.

Based on prior experience, the architects knew that conventional ‘stick-build’ construction using local labor would be prohibitively expensive. They suggested prefabricating the building off-site; and the use of shipping containers to lower cost, ease transportation, and provide the kind of design experimentation that they were open to. Their past work proved that by streamlining this process, they could achieve significant cost reductions.

But shipping containers are inherently narrow (7’-2” wide, finished inside). So, they opted to stack two 40’ long x 8’ wide containers on top of two and carve out the interior floor/wall/ ceiling of half of this ‘4-pack’ unit to create a voluminous, 17’ tall, living space that would create an exciting and necessary spatial relief. To reach the second floor from this room, they chose to install a wide staircase, taking the whole width of a single container; in this manner, they extended the high living room ceiling and transformed the stair itself into a kind of ‘amphitheatrical’ room that faces the backyard, pool, and sunsets—through floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall, windows.

The simplicity of spatial layout and materials were sought to yield compelling and uncluttered rooms while achieving budget goals. As such, MB used the rectilinear geometry of containers and their inherent structural strengths to guide room layout and structural requirements. In fact, the small 10’ x 10’ 2nd-floor extension is essentially bolted and welded back to the main building and held in tension—it is devoid of beams underneath. The single container housing two bedrooms are placed slightly away from the main building to create courtyard-like outdoor spaces that allow the building to nestle into the sloping landscape while making the small house feel spacious.

A single tall oak tree was carefully retained during construction and maintains a pivotal point anchoring the two parts of the building together. The transparent bridge connecting these two building parts is surrounded by tall grasses and shrubs creating a pleasant walk-through experience both as one travels through the bridge and as one approaches the front door of the house. The building was installed in two days; fully completed in two months, and cost significantly and meaningfully less than prevailing building costs.

Design and info © MB Architecture

Images © Matthew Carbone

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