MN tiny home pioneer turns containers into airtight wee homes

In 2002, when the modern Movement was in its infancy, architect conceived of a tiny prefab home for a client who wanted an affordable retreat. Naming it ®, Warner went on to use the simple box design in prefab variations across the U.S.

In 2016, Warner and his team at transformed a shipping container into a mobile hotel. Touching down in a dozen locations across and , the celebrates both the forgotten, and celebrated, corners of the Twin Cities.

Warner calls the roaming hotel an “art project”, explaining “one of the issues with shipping containers is they don’t make good buildings, and I know that because we do modular houses which people mistake for shipping containers. The difference is when you make a house from scratch you’re giving it a really good envelope, really good insulation, the structure where you need it, etcetera.”

Inspired by the lightHotel, Alchemy has developed a non-container modular home, the . Better suited to Minnesota winters, this 400-square-foot home/cabin or ADU comes with Passive House windows and 12″ SIP floor, wall, and ceiling panels.

The lightHotel is renting for $75 per night:

Alchemy Architects:


  1. What an awesome thing to do!!! I love it! I was gonna say the $75 a night was too much but the high end touches probably make it worth it. My feet are cold after a shower at home!! lol
    We all need to start seriously thinking of recycling on a small and large scale. Great! Great! Great!

  2. This sort of idea would be great for those “camps” where former street people are given a tiny home and use it as a private residence/bedroom. The kitchen and shower areas are in a centralized communal space. If you want to help someone get back on their feet and get some addiction help, they need a safe decent place to sleep and access to the help.

  3. If these little homes are “Air Tight” …wouldn’t you suffocate? I don’t think “Air Tight” homes would be legal anywhere in the world. I think what they are trying to say is that they are “Water Tight”?

  4. The trouble with this video is that the builder of these homes go “over the top”. To create attractive tiny homes that are so expensive, it would be cheaper to build them from lumber than to re-purpose old shipping containers. BTW The are not “Air Tight” …that would kill you.

    • Kazoosc: No? The designer is an architect and I am sure that either he will sell his plans or the full mock up of this tiny home. Don’t fool yourself. He didn’t do it just for fun. Not at that expense. Now he does say that the “selling feature” is that it can be used as a hotel. He says people will pay $75/night, but that I believe is an inflated estimate so he can sell more. You might want to think more about it or do some actual research or both.

    • Kazoosc: The guy and his team have built this and have posted it on AirBNB for $95 per night. I am assuming that all the team members have family and friends who have posted fake positive reviews on that website. They all were posted within a four month person. With NO negative reviews or comments. Smells a little fishy.

      My guess is that they put the fake AirBNB ad and fake reviews to show prospective customers who are thinking about buying one that they can use it for income if they choose to rent it out.

      You can believe what you want but I smell a scam. “A fool and his money, are easily separated”,

    • it was done with college design students
      it was an exploration of space .. the relation of house to landscape
      .. they did not set out to get into modular design
      .. he did that to meet the needs of a specific client and that took off into their modular line .. weeHouse, BarnHouse, and lightHouse — the last of which is what they developed out this e x p e r i m e n t
      .. again, not a replacement for hotels

  5. This concept makes no sense. If the idea is as a city hotel substitute, how can he make a competitive price point seeing as real estate in a city is the biggest cost, why they build up in the first place. I can’t see this every panning out for this guy. Always give entrepreneurs props for trying new things though, maybe there’s some practical application I’m not seeing like maybe shipping a few hundred of these in for a special event where hotel space is undersupplied. But even then the costs of shipping and moving probably make the price point once again unprofitable

    • it is very clear that he is not trying to reinvent the hotel
      it is a one-off, not a commercial venture, to explore the fringes of what they began doing with the weeHouse
      right at the end he talks about what Alchemy learned from the experiment

    • .. at one point he goes through a list of _possible_ labels for lightHotel ( art, hotel, mobile home, modular home ) and explains how it really isn’t, why it doesn’t qualify as any of them
      .. an experiment does not have to lead to a viable, commercial project. it can just be .. an experiment in “what ifs”. a way to work with systems you had not used before
      it was an experiment within limitations ( space, mobility ) to explore ideas and systems
      .. some have been adapted ( triple paned windows, passive house concepts ) in other work
      .. others have not
      the lightHotel is maybe one step up from the typical concept car, as it is functional .. you can book a night
      .. and yet it is still not a commercial product. they just have the one.
      .. he very clearly states why he does not consider container construction viable ( though they continue to be used by many ) — but other commercial products/projects of the firm clearly grew out of experimentation with containers. the form, modularity, systems, geometry

  6. The thing about all these boxes we have to match up, is that we need to move past that. We’re in a stage of technological advancements that we can plan it out on a computer, and see the millions of different combinations than just see the ideas of the few. We need to move past the early stages of our country’s society if we want to further ourselves.

  7. Some people will want this small house, and with the building industry making mansions for the one percent. He knows more about history of architecture and uses it to get small structures for whoever wants one. I like listening to his references for history, and how he uses the past to help create the future! Form fallows funtion !!!!😎😎😁

  8. On his shipping container build how many inches of spray on closed cell foam did he use? I have had the idea to build with shipping containers for a few years now, and the insulation amount has baffled me, especially since living in the north east in the snow belt.

    • Apparently, people from the Cinéma Vérité from back in the day, as well as dogma 95 school, or the Direct Cinema guys (all “observational cinema”) would need gimbals. Everybody shooting like a robot, hence everybody walking their way to be substituted by a robotic mentality. That said, gimbals make sense sometimes. Not all the time.

  9. I live in a tiny home & it’s quite small, but you go inside & there are ways to make storage & such & make it look bigger, even for the size of the outside…You can go inside & still feel like it’s a homey environment…I know this is a hotel, but for me (& I love tiny homes), he made a small area seem even smaller & he didn’t even have much in the room. There are ways to not feel like you are sleeping in a box (more windows for example)…I didn’t hate it, but there are ways to make the place seem bigger, even in a small space like that. For me, the bed didn’t need to be the whole room. I know it was a hotel room, but maybe give the room some levels & things artistically other than just a straight shot type of square deal. Give the eyes some curves & levels to look at perhaps. It need not all be huge & square, just cause the container is square. There were a ton of artistic possibilities…especially since the guy made houses & knew how to design creative bedrooms, I’m sure…I TOTALLY would love to have a shipping container mint home, but this was just, for me, only made me think of what they could of done with the space & NOT what they did with the space…That’s just one person’s humble opinion. 😃🌈✌🙏

    • I can’t believe I watched the whole thing (this particular one) but it did get a little more interesting as time went on…Talking about the other builds & all. ✌🙏

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