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How to Build a House of Shipping Containers

Barbara and Matt Mooney caused quite a stir when they bought one of the best views in Dallas—and then built an unusual home.
By Tim Rogers |
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Photography by Wade Griffith

How to Build a House of Shipping Containers

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You know the intermodal freight container by its more common name, the shipping container. First used in 1956 to transport goods aboard a tanker sailing from Newark to Houston, the shipping container—standardized, stackable, easily shifted from ship to train to truck—has transformed the world to a degree that would be difficult to overstate.

Matt Mooney, a principal at the architecture firm Corgan, started thinking about building a house out of the steel boxes 25 years ago. “They are beautiful pieces of equipment,” he says, explaining himself to a nosy visitor one day not long before Thanksgiving. “They were a really elegant solution to a difficult problem. It’s a common language for the world.”

His wife, Barbara, stands next to him in the downstairs kitchen, nodding. She’s a retired nurse with what sounds like a full-time job as a community volunteer. Though the couple recently opened the house to a tour organized by the Dallas chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the house stands empty, all the staged furniture for the tour having been whisked away. They hope to be fully moved in sometime after the new year.

“I have enjoyed this journey so much,” Matt says. “Every facet of this has been fun so far. I can’t believe she let me do this.”

Barbara chimes in: “I was the person who said, ‘Now, everybody I’ve ever known that has built a house would never do it again.’ I’m that person.”

“I joke that she let me do this, but she reserved the right to say, ‘I told you so.’ ”

The project got its start when a lot on Peavy Road, overlooking the east side of White Rock Lake, became available. Matt and Barbara spotted it on one of their walks through the neighborhood where they’ve lived for 24 years. But by the time Matt was ready to make an offer, he discovered the lot had sold a week earlier. He figured that was God’s way of telling him not to build a house. Six weeks later, God apparently reconsidered, and an adjacent property came on the market.

Matt designed the house in collaboration with Michael Gooden, who also works at Corgan. Their plan called for 14 shipping containers, and on the day they arrived at the site, an impromptu crowd of about 200 people gathered to watch a crane lift them into place. That same day, Gooden launched a website,, to assuage any fears about what the heck, exactly, was happening—though they also joked about putting a picture of a colonial house on the construction fence, along with a “coming soon” sign.

Now that neighbors have seen the finished house and had a chance to walk through its 3,700 square feet of maple and steel and concrete modernity, reaction has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Barbara says. The 1,000-square-foot roof deck overlooking White Rock Lake and downtown Dallas, in particular, has the power to convert doubters. On the AIA Dallas tour, Matt overheard one young lady take it all in, then nod her head and say, “Well, I guess it’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be.”