The Caterpillar is a multi-unit residential project in Detroit. The client required us to maximize volume and light while providing the most units within the R2 zoning limitations (1 principle structure and maximum 8 units). To maintain cost effectiveness and reduce labor, we worked with Steelmaster to customize a pre-engineered steel structure called a Quonset hut.
The challenge in working with one Quonset hut was in subdividing units and bringing in natural light. Typically, non-structural end walls are able to provide light. To solve this in Caterpillar, we introduced daylight from the arch of the hut using a customizable dormer style window while maintaining the arch's structural integrity. Inspired by Parisian mansard roofs, we devised an arrangement of windows to maximize light distribution. This natural light strategy led to the arrangement of units as slices like a sushi roll: 3 small, 3 medium, and 2 large (end) units to offer variety. Each unit has 12 openings; the end units have 15 openings.
The vision for the interiors was to provide flexibility for a variety of lifestyles and to retain the sacred geometry of the vaulted space. A compact island was utilized to maintain volume and light while separating private and public space. The island houses the kitchen which is forward facing. The bathroom, laundry, and closet are interior with lateral entrance and exit possible for multiple occupants. The rear facing side of the island is flat to house a bed or other furniture.
The placement of the hut on the property emphasizes a forested front yard that provides depth and privacy. To stimulate common ground for the inhabitants, the hut is lifted and a wrap-around deck envelops it to create a sense of unity and wonderment while experiencing the surroundings.