Patrick Bradley's shipping container house

A shipping container home in County Derry

This creative self-build-on-a-budget is one of Kevin's favourite Grand Designs projects

By Duncan Hayes | 31 July 2020

Architect Patrick Bradley’s shipping container self-build in County Derry featured on Grand Designs in 2014, and has long been one of Kevin McCloud’s favourite self-build projects. But it wasn’t all plain sailing. When Patrick explained his plans to build on a treasured spot on his parents’ farm, he divided family opinion.

‘They all agreed I could build on a picturesque area with a stream bubbling through it,’ says Patrick. ‘But my idea was for a bold contemporary home made of boxes balanced on top of each other. They thought it was a bit wild, and my mother was worried that I was going to ruin her favourite view forever.’

Fortunately, the one place where the design didn’t cause concern was in the planning office, which embraced the boldness of Patrick’s scheme.

grand designs shipping container tv house in county derry

Photo: Aidan Monaghan

To help his home fit in with its setting, Patrick turned to agricultural buildings for inspiration.

‘There are plenty of large barns locally, but your eyes don’t pick them up. Their raw materials and dark colours mean they recede into the countryside rather than stand out,’ he said.

Consequently, from the start the property’s cladding was to be in a natural palette, with two distinct materials zoning the private and shared spaces of the house: Corten steel and coarse metal mesh.

grand designs shipping container tv house in county derry

Photo: Aidan Monaghan

Shipping forecast

On top of this daring design, Patrick’s build route was also far from conventional as he planned to upcycle four shipping containers to create the frame of his house – a creative solution to a budgetary problem.

Containers are enormously strong when stacked conventionally thanks to their load-bearing points, but Patrick’s plan was to stack them in a cruciform arrangement across the weakest point. This meant that a new steel skeleton had to be made for the containers by off-site steelworkers so the weight could be supported centrally.

Once the new steel was in place it was time to try the containers in their final configuration to see if the structure had the integrity it needed. ‘This was probably one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of any of the houses I’ve built,” said Patrick. “Thankfully though, they were as solid as a rock.’