AB design studio | CubeDepot - Creating Together

AB design studio | CubeDepot - Creating Together

Construciton began last month on five shipping containers provided by CubeDepot and Al Harris. Each container has been modified and fabricated to accomodate customized designs for the Dwell On Design Show. 

AB design studio | CubeDepot - Creating Together

ME:OU      Modular Expandable: Office Unit

ME:OU is based in a concept of providing an efficient and cost effective modular space to solve the needs of one individual or the needs of an entire team of people. ME:OU has been designed for modularity and expandability by using the Intermodal Steel Building Units (ISBU’s). ISBU’s are commonly referred to as Shipping Containers or Cargo Containers; these base building blocks allow design problems to be solved in a variety of creative modular and expandable configurations. The different arrangements and modifications allows for the interior of the spaces to be configured and used in a variety plans and sizes. Each concept and option can be added or subtracted from. Typical environments include; office space, conference room(s), workstations, artist studios, construction trailers and workshops. Additional concepts and options also provide for living quarters, kitchens, bathing facilities and so on. The modular expandable nature of this design allows users to select the size and scale of their unit in order to match their specific needs. Each unit configuration is allowed to incrementally expand or contract to fit the user’s business needs, operations and growth. The modular design and inherent ISBU functionality also allows for easy transport, delivery and motility. ME:OU is strong and durable. Moving ME:OU across the county or across the property is straightforward and simple. The ISBU base building blocks are designed to ship and travel by land and sea.

AB design studio | CubeDepot - Creating Together

ME:OU is designed for adaptability as well as assembly and disassembly. For instance, an owner might purchase the standard two-container CUBE_1 solution for an office type use. As the business grows or the operations intensify, so can the office unit. Each unit is designed to be connected to other modular design units. Expanding the unit or creating a small campus of units is simple and effective. There could seemingly be no end to how many uses and configurations one could create. The modules can be placed on wide variety of soils and foundations. Each unit can be designed for maximum flexibility to accommodate different site conditions and configurations. The relatively small building units that support the ME:OU design are compact and easily maneuvered through tight spaces or small driveways.

AB design studio | CubeDepot - Creating Together

A major factor contributing to the construct-ability of this project relies on two major opportunities. First the containers are built off-site in a controlled environment. All systems of the ME:OU are installed into the containers at off site locations and then delivered ready to connect and use. This delivery process reduces the amount of wasted time and effort on site. The ME:OU also eliminates expensive trips to and from the site and this allows its end user to avoid expensive export of waste to local landfills. Second, ME:OU doesn’t require complicated and permanent foundations and utility systems. All the elements that connect ME:OU are designed to be connected and re-connected. If necessary, the ME:OU can be disconnected, moved and reconnected in an unlimited manner. ME:OU expedites the construction process and minimizes impact on the proposed site. ME:OU can be disassembled as easily as it was first assembled and moved to a new locations. If additional modules were needed and added they can also be disconnected and removed when no longer needed.              

Environmental Implications of ME:OU:

We have employed the following concepts into our design as they relate to “Environmentally Responsible” design:

Reduce | Reuse | Recycle – The visual appearance of the ME:OU demonstrates an obvious fact; the modular units show how everyday materials can be recycled and used in creative ways. ME:OU is designed to provide new life to ISBU’s that are no longer sea worthy. The interiors are well designed to maximize functionality within the refined confines of the container. Recycled or Recyclable content promotes a Life-Cycle type building process. Life-Cycling considers the long term impacts of building materials with regard to the life of a building; how much of the building and it’s components parts can be recycled after the structure has fulfilled its role or reaches the end of its life. The fundamental building block of a container based design is the ISBU. Each ISBU is almost entirely built from steel. Steel is 100% recyclable content. Additionally, the interior finish materials that have been developed for ME:OU are also primarily selected for their sustainable content. Aluminum is used for window frames, wall system assemblies and other finishes elements to provide durability and further enhance the sustainability of the end product. The ME:OU design also includes recycled content carpeting, FSC Certified wood decking for the exterior, and many other carefully selected materials and systems to promote sustainability. Low voltage LED lighting systems and/ or compact fluorescent light fixtures provide adequate lighting that uses less electricity than similar incandescent lighting. Natural day lighting and intelligent shading elements along with proper site placement also conspire to reduce lighting and heating/cooling loads. A great way to minimize carbon footprint and impact on the environment is to reduce the amount of material going into a structure. Therefore a compact utilitarian design that provides attractive solutions to everyday issues and a strong theme throughout our solution. ME:OU’s major building components, like steel and aluminum, are lifecycle compatible by design.

Solar energy - each container can be outfitted with solar panels on the roof to provide solar energy for the electrical needs of the user. In areas where power is available, the solar panels will assist in turning back the meter and supplying the grid. One set of these solar panels can also be dedicated to providing domestic hot water if required. The Solar Arrays also provide an added layer or shading to the exterior surface of the container which reduced the heat gain and subsequent cooling costs for the interiors.

Minimal Site Impacts – The outstanding strength of each ISBU allows for different structural foundation options when placing the compact ME:OU building on the earth. Small Slabs or Perimeter Footings are an obvious solution for more permanent installations. Meanwhile, Helical Piles, and other Small Structural Pile type footings can provide ample point loaded support at each corner of the ISBU. Helical Piles and other similar systems allow for a “lighter-touch” on the site and will allow for easy removal and/ or relocation if needed. If no foundation is desired, the ME:OU building form can be installed on flat compacted soil or gravel. Ultimately, the ME:OU design uses minimal foundation support wherever it goes. Minimal Site impacts mean less disturbance to the ecology, erosion and construction time line.

Size Matters – Proportion, Use, and Waste. Many of today’s concepts and established norms for living and working are inherently non-sustainable. Bigger is not always better. While developing the ME:OU concepts we concentrated our design team on the assessment of how much space humans truly need to be productive. We asked ourselves…”What space is reasonably necessary to perform a variety of everyday functions without sacrificing productivity and customary modern human needs?” We examined these everyday functions of living and working and we developed interior spaces that provide concise and well-utilized environments without sacrificing function and dignity. As a result, the ME:OU design is capable of supporting a wide array of necessary function without demanding a disproportionate amount of resources, space and embodied energy. This particular design allows individuals on become accustomed to what is necessary and provides them with functionality that is not dependent on size but intentional manipulations of space. The modular unit shows that a large space is not necessarily to be functional and comfortable.

AB design studio | CubeDepot - Creating Together

Economic or Policy Implications:

The US is currently stock-piling shipping containers sent to the US by other countries. Due to the high costs of returning them to their countries of origin, the containers are often left in US Ports in large numbers. Many coastal ports are literally chocked by mountains of these discarded containers. Using ISBU building blocks for the construction of buildings and other structures allows for adaptive re-use of otherwise discarded rusting waste. ME:OU is designed so that it can be available anywhere in the world. The ME:OU are constructed in a controlled environments and shipped ready to use at their final locations; this process minimizes waste and speed up the construction process.

Advance Lifecycle Building:

Careful Study of the Life-Cycle Building process will show that the inherent properties of the ME:OU design and delivery method are compatible with Life-Cycle building practices. The typical Life-Cycle Stages of a building are:

Materials Manufacturing: Removal of raw materials from earth, transportation of materials to the manufacturing locations, manufacture of finished or intermediate materials, building product fabrication, and packaging and distribution of building products

Construction: All activities relating to the actual building project construction

Use and Maintenance: Building operation including energy consumption, water usage, environmental waste generation, repair and replacement of building assemblies and systems, and transport and equipment use for repair and replacement 

End of Life: Includes energy consumed and waste produced due to building demolition and disposal of materials to landfills, and transport of waste materials. Recycling and reuse activities related to demolition waste also can be included and have a “negative impact.”


AB design studio & CubeDepot have joined forces in a strategic partnership to develop a new line of Container Based buildings to suite a variety of uses. In 2013, Al Harris of CubeDepot enlisted partners Clay Aurell and Josh Blumer of AB design studio to collaborate on a new line of Container Based designs to meet the growing list of CubeDepot customers who want well designed spaces to support work in a wide array of industries and uses. The concept is a Modular Expandable : Office Unit called ME:OU.

ME:OU is an extension of the ME:LU or Modular Expandable : Living Unit that Clay Aurell and Josh Blumer designed and submitted for the Open Up the Box completion. ME:LU was designed to provide small residential units that allowed for a variety of configurations based on an additive and subtractive modular system. ME:LU was well received by the jury and AB design studio was awarded the top prize as "winner" of Open Up the Box competition in 2008. Following the Open up the Box competition Aurell and Blumer took ME:LU to the 2008 Lifecycle Building Challenge sponsored by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). At the Lifecycle Building Challenge ME:LU was once again recognized for it's well-designed and effective use and re-use of materials and construction techniques. Since then Aurell, Blumer and their award winning Architecture and Interior Design firm, AB design studio, have tackled several other successful container based projects including a proposal for a new 11,000 square foot container based office building and sixteen Single Resident Occupancy (SRO) units for the San Luis Obispo Housing Authority. Currently, AB design studio is working on several innovative container base housing projects including a 21 Unit Low Cost Workforce Housing project in Santa Barbara and Hi-End Custom Residential project built from Containers and overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

The container office, or "ME:OU" as CubeDepot & AB design studio have named it, is a durable, affordable, and environmentally friendly solution to the modern-day office. Designed by AB design studio, the office showcased at Dwell on Design LA is an 800 square-foot custom office space with an adjoining 800 square foot exterior deck and trellis structure. It is made from four 20-foot standard ISO shipping containers and features a conference room, workstations, exterior deck and stylish design appeal. Made to support a high-tech environment, ME:OU includes a conference table, computer stations, flat-screen TVs, pre-installed network configurations, and complete HVAC options. A cost-effective, self-contained alternative to traditional construction, ME:OU can be literally dropped down into an existing space on any location.

"As creative, design centric architects and interior designers we are always pushing the boundaries and looking for new ways to reinvent the everyday structure," says AB design studio co-owner Clay Aurell. "The container office exemplifies a major shift in the way people are thinking about what used to be nothing more than a shipping container: containers are now a launching point to endless living, working and retail possibilities."

While mobile field offices have historically been found on construction or disaster sites where a portable workspace is needed, these innovative and economical portable structures are becoming more commonly used to fit a multitude of needs, from individuals and small businesses, to large corporations in need of a multi-unit complex. Because they are constructed out of refurbished shipping containers that have been previously ISO (International Organization of Standardization) certified for freight transportation, they are engineered to withstand heavy cargo loads and harsh ocean conditions. This means they are highly resilient to vigorous winds, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes.

"We are excited to have partnered with AB design studio to envision a structurally sound, low-cost solution to the workplace of tomorrow; ME:OU is just the beginning," says CubeDepot Founder and President, Al Harris. "Soon, consumers will be able to virtually create their own offices - and so much more - with just a few clicks using our proprietary CubeBuilder tool."

CubeBuilder, displayed at Dwell on Design LA inside the ME:OU exhibit, is a first-of-its-kind cloud-based platform that allows you to virtually customize a container with specifications that fit your needs. Using a high-tech drag and drop function, you can experiment with different features, such as windows, colors and doors, all while receiving live pricing for your selections based on real-time inventory. With the potential to disrupt the container trading industry, the CubeBuilder tool embodies a level of sophistication and transparency the industry has yet to see.

CubeDepot, founded in 2013, provides end-to-end solutions for people looking to buy, rent, or modify shipping containers. It also services consumers, business and government entities looking for portable storage solutions, including construction, retail, industrial manufacturing, residential, government and municipalities. Headquartered in Santa Barbara, California, the CubeDepot team is made up of industry experts who have over 50 years of combined experience in all phases of Portable Storage, Cargo Equipment Trading, and Modular Building.


AB design studio | CubeDepot - Creating Together

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AB design studio,  inc. | architecture | interior design | urban planning | california | new york | santa barbara | los angeles | san francisco | san diego | clay aurell,  aia, leed ap, ncarb | josh blumer,  aaia