Contain Yourself

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High Desert photographer Tim Palen may be thinking outside the box, but he’s living inside of it. Actually, he lives in five cargo containers.

Ecotechdesign architect Walter Scott Perry of Los Angeles has created a hybrid house on the Prius concept: combining pre-engineered building and energy conservation features with design flexibility. In addition to repurposing shipping containers, the house uses recycled steel framing and wall panels, recycled Philippine mahogany plywood floors, and perforated-steel solar shading that reduces heat and glare by 50 percent. A “living roof” planted with native desert plants uses gray-water irrigation. A recycled 3,000-gallon tank collects rainwater to irrigate the solar breezeway landscaping, and a 10,000-gallon tank provides potable water.

Palen’s 2,300-square-foot, two-level house near Joshua Tree offers sweeping desert views and features a photo studio made from a steel Butler building; he attached a sixth container for studio storage.

In a hurry for your own hybrid house? Perry’s version can be erected in less than an hour — a fraction of the time it will take you to unpack moving boxes. (

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