Exoskeleton – Dion J Dekker, Cal Poly


In the last couple years we have seen a lot of shipping container designs from some of today’s leading designers.  This design comes from Dion J Dekker of Cal Poly in his award winning design for a Miami Beach hotel to be built with the re-use of shipping containers to win a Modular Building Institute (MBI) student design competition.  The main unit of the shipping container was used solely as an integrated component of the programmatic design, where in a lot of shipping container designs it is the sole feature of the project.  

SCHOOL: California Polytechnic State University
STUDENT: Dion J Dekker
COURSE: AIA / MBI Design Competition: Miami Beach Hotel
YEAR: 2010

EXOSKELETON / re-configurable shipping container hotel

The recycled shipping container is like a muscle, sliding along tracks attached inside an exoskeleton structure, creating reconfigurable spaces throughout the entire hotel. These re configurable spaces can be combined from single-containers into larger spaces, transformed into circulation paths, and relocated as deep shading devices for outdoor events. Tendon-like spaces provide the system for containers to slide. The exoskeleton rises over the earth as two expansive atrium’s that have shipping containers that form 9 major program spaces and 9 hotel rooms with a special 9-number coding system for identifying the specific configuration possibilities of each container.

The site is located in North Miami Beach, Florida, and the beachfront site sits adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay. The building form responds to the activity and display of muscles on the beach and encourages the connection between Collins Avenue and the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors commute north along the busy Collins Avenue from downtown Miami to arrive at the site. In an attempt to integrate public spaces into the hotel, an entertainment corridor (with retail and restaurant) was organized at the rear of the site. This lively tendon connects Collins Avenue with the beach, aiming to link the hotel to the site by balancing hospitality with entertainment in a comfortable, sustainable manner.

As a primary part of their stay at the hotel, visitors use the building to sleep and wake up. This notion is used to choreograph all the programmatic spaces as the building defines night/day (closed/open) according to its own set of parameters. Hours of programmatic use and variable weather patterns are used to inform when the structure and skin open and close. In addition to the translated movements of containers, the exoskeleton’s pneumatic pumps set in motion certain areas of the structure to open and close in the case of severe weather patterns. Frequent, and increasing hurricane recurrences encourage the exoskeleton to take on the brute force of high wind loads. In the case of a hurricane, the containers retreat to the central core of the building and the skeletal structure closes up like an insect in a storm. As the containers reconfigure according to their dynamic environment, they are tracked by identification numbers which correlate to one of nine specific programmatic uses. The number also identifies the number of possible connections each container makes to other containers (the higher the number, the greater the number of container configurations possible for one specific programmatic use.) As a result, the construction process is simplified by creating relationships between the container and the unique tectonics of how they connect within the building.

The building proposes a highly modular structure and skin to allow for re-configurable programmatic spaces to integrate commercial and recreational uses. Modulation is used as a tool to generate unique spaces through repetition of structural families. By rotating and stretching, one modular form is reconfigured into families of units for different applications. The modular families apply to different programmatic zones of the project, creating a strong coherence among the building elements. The zones organize a large public space, a central lobby space, hotel rooms, and service spaces. The program in these zones are choreographed as clusters of activity which are oriented around nodes of circulation. The configuration of structure, skin, and circulation pathway is highly regular in the center of the hotel, where the zones come together. As the muscle of program grows further from this centralized core, the configuration of structure, skin, and pathways increasingly changes to alter the inside and outside of different movement systems. To minimize floor space, covered circulation pathways run between recycled container and steel exoskeleton. The exoskeleton peels in to support these pathways as well as the cladding system that runs up through the towers. The pathways are covered by the steel shipping container walls stretched inside the exoskeleton. Attached to a framework of steel substructure is double-glazed, structural fins of glass that are used to support glass laterally for high wind loads.

As the exoskeleton rises into the sky in the form of two hollow towers, 9 hotel rooms are strung between them. The hotel units are configured from three shipping container units combined together. Visitors enter one of their room’s units at lobby level and are lifted vertically through the tower where it meets with the 2 other hotel units already in place. Horizontal tracks then guide the three units out between the two towers. At night, nine hotel rooms simultaneously float like bird nests in the sky and offer views of the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay during the day.

All text and images via http://www.arch.calpoly.edu/gallery/portfolio/competitions-dion-dekker.html

2 thoughts on “Exoskeleton – Dion J Dekker, Cal Poly

  1. hahahah.
    no just joking.
    great project. Clearly engaging seamless deliverables ordinated by expedited & unassigned social “membranes”
    good work

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