adiaHouse | Low-Cost Internationally Transportable Eco- Kit Homes

Pre-built in Houston, Texas; Erected in Italy, near Milan
Design, Construction, and On-Site Erection | 2009 - 2010
Client: Confidential
Cost: 30,000 euros per home

Affordable, elegant, eco-friendly homes delivered internationally—any size, any style, anywhere in the world. This is the essence of the adiaHouse.

In many countries and remote regions, lack of materials and skilled labor make it impossible to build safe and comfortable modern housing. So we developed a system for pre-building and packaging traditional American wooden homes in such a way that an entire home can fit into a single shipping container and be shipped anywhere in the world affordably.

We made improvements for environmental-friendliness, insulation, and spatial quality—and revolutionized the way the homes are built. But as far as construction quality and materials, these homes are identical to contemporary American homes and meet or exceed all International Building Code (IBC) requirements. We think the best proof of quality is in the pictures.

Dedicated to Helen Coronis and Tonie Rogers, two faithful friends who never stop believing.

Background | Birth of the adiaHouse

Lack of affordable housing is a serious problem around the world, and it’s been our focus for almost a decade now. When our "$12,000 Green Dream Home" (MCDhouse) was published in 2009, floods of emails came in from across the globe. It seemed to give people hope. It made young people who can barely afford to rent leap at the thought of owning their own home. It made families with children dream of healthy, all natural housing. It delighted the elderly looking for small elegant homes to down-size into in retirement. It perked political interests in multiple continents. An ultra-affordable, eco-friendly house seemed to strike a chord in everyone.

For years we had been researching and developing innovations in the direction of international prefabrication and ultra-affordable housing. (See book: America's Housing Contradiction) Our heart went out to all those who contacted us, and in the wake of the global financial crisis we decided it was time to put research, invention, and creativity to the test.

Among the responses we received was one from a Swiss non-profit organization that provides housing, food, and educational opportunities for approximately 500 abused women/children and needy families around the world. It provides homes in many parts of the world where resources and skilled labor are limited, and was interested in our ideas for internationally transportable houses. They requested a small village of homes outside of Milan. They wanted homes that were better than average homes—homes that were eco-friendly, innovative, and sheltered families' souls, not just their bodies. And thus the first generation adiaHouse was born.

Realization, Construction, Transportation

As of December 2010, the first group of adiaHouses has been completed. They are located in a small town in Italy west of Milan.

For legal and protective reasons we cannot describe the details of how the homes were built, but we can provide basic information.

The homes were designed so that all the pre-assembled parts and finish materials for two complete houses—including all furnishings—could fit into one standard 40’ shipping container. This was no easy task, but it made the cost of international transport feasible.

All materials for the homes were purchased in the United States. The houses were partially pre-built and packaged in a warehouse near Houston, Texas.

The foundations were designed for maximum versatility and speed of construction, and were completed in one day prior to the arrival of the houses in shipping containers. This was important so that the houses could be erected immediately upon arrival.

Every prefabricated piece was coded, making it easy to tell what it was and where it belonged in the house. This greatly simplified the on-site erection process. In fact, the houses were erected with only one 8.5 x 14 page of architectural drawings for reference.

Eco-Friendly Attributes

Though somewhat traditional in appearance, the adiaHouses have many built-in innovations and ecologically-friendly attributes. A few are listed below:

Smallness: The first step of minimizing the impact of these homes on the environment was to make them as small as possible without compromising comfort and elegance. By virtue of a rotating wall, flexible furniture, choreographed views, and other architectural tactics, we were able to create a surprisingly spacious feel with minimal square footage. Less building = less material, less energy to heat/cool, and less occupied land–not to mention lower cost and lower taxes.

Construction Efficiency: While most homes are designed and built in a way that creates significant construction waste (often 10 percent of total materials), our homes were designed according to standard material dimensions to minimize cutting and waste. Factory construction is much more precise and efficient than traditional on-site construction. And because every ounce and every square inch counts when shipping things internationally, we design and engineer the homes very precisely. Part of the reason the homes are so affordable and so fast to build is that minimal cutting is required and minimal waste is produced.

Super-Insulation: To minimize the amount of energy needed to heat and cool the homes, we super-insulated them. We built the homes with double layer walls and double insulation, and a dual layer roof for combating the heat/cold even before it reached the insulation.

Strategically-Placed Windows: Windows are essential for natural light and views, but they also compromise the insulatory envelope of the house. By carefully placing and sharing windows, we were able to insure that every room is lit with soft natural light during the day—and that no matter what the season, the homes will always receive natural cross ventilation and cooling breezes (if desired).

Window Murals: The best time to block unwanted sunlight is before it reaches a window—not once it’s already inside. We created artistic murals to function as outdoor window shades on the south-facing windows, and add art to the neighborhood for children and passersby to enjoy.
Outdoor Elements: Each home has a small planter/herb garden to encourage the family to learn to grow their own organic produce. The homes also feature an outdoor deck for dining or relaxing, to encourage outdoor living and provide a place for the adults to work or relax while watching the children at play in the yard.

Making a Small Space Special

Once inside, most visitors think the first generation adiaHouses are twice as big as they really are. We’re always happy to hear this, because we worked very hard to make them feel that way. We believe that smallness is a key to sustainable and affordable design, and that with enough creativity small homes can be stylish, comfortable, and sufficient.

Flexibility: Rather than design lots of spaces, we designed flexible spaces whose use could change throughout the day. We also designed flexible furniture to complement these spaces, like a bed that slides under a mounted wardrobe to become a couch/daybed—eliminating the need for a couch and clearing up space in the bedroom during the day. The kitchen table (Norden, by IKEA) seats 6 and doubles as a work desk equipped with drawers, but can fold down in seconds and tuck away.

Sculptural Storage: Storage requires a lot of space, and can often be unsightly. In order to remedy this, we hid storage spaces within furniture and designed sculptural furnishings to look like art instead of utility spaces. With elegant lighting and materials, we turned the traditional “clothes closet” into a work of art.

Translucency: We used translucent panels and rice paper on furniture to shield stored objects from view and create reflections to maintain an airy, spacious feeling. Instead of traditional opaque interior doors, we used French doors with glass to allow light and view to flow between spaces. High ceilings and carefully placed windows also play a part, diminishing the compressive feeling of interior space and providing light & view.

Light: Light can transform space, and we took advantage of both mechanical and natural light to make each space special. By bouncing light off of certain surfaces we created colors which change throughout the day: gold, white, Mediterranean blue.

Rotating Walls: The most prominent space-saving feature of our design is the rotating wall that separates the bedroom from the living space. During the day, the public and private spaces are separate so that the family can cook, invite guests, or let their baby sleep while they work. But at night the wall opens and the entire house becomes a beautiful bedroom suite.

Quality of space, not quantity. Small, but stylish and sufficient. This is the way we think at Adia.

What’s Included in the Cost?

The finished cost of the first generation adiaHouses (as pictured) was 30,000 Euros per house. The cost INCLUDES the following items:

All materials and labor
All furnishings, excluding electrical appliances
All furniture, custom-designed, real wood
Double insulation
Mid/high grade finishing materials
All transport and delivery fees
U.S. sales tax and European import taxes
International flights for designer and project manager

The cost of 30,000 Euros DOES NOT include the following items:

Architectural design fees
Land cost
Construction permit fees
On-site connection to sewer and water

IMPORTANT NOTE: The above cost is mentioned for the sake of reference only, and is based on the specific unit design and location of the homes. Cost fluctuates with many things, including:

Size of house(s) desired (price per S.F./M.Q. decreases with size)
Quantity of homes purchased
Location, and cost of transportation and flights
Taxation and tariff levels for importation
Fluctuation of national currencies
Cost and availability of labor
Rise/fall in material prices
Quality of finishings/materials desired
Complexity of design and construction

Material Specifications

All materials used in the adiaHouse meet or exceed the specifications set forth by the International Building Code (IBC). The adiaHouse is built of wood, and uses the same (or better) materials and finishes as traditional American homes.

Many companies manufacture “mobile homes” or metal housing units which use un-conventional materials and have questionable standards of safety, energy performance, fire resistance, etc. The adiaHouse is not to be confused with these homes.

At Adia, we lower costs by virtue of 1) space-saving designs, 2) waste-reducing construction techniques, 3) economies of scale, and 4) lower energy bills over the life of the house—not by reducing quality of materials or workmanship.


Small though they may seem, an immense amount of energy went into the research, development, design, engineering, fabrication, and international acculturation of the first generation adiaHouses. We are grateful to all those whose heart, help, and expertise made this endeavor possible, and would like to especially thank the following people:

Tonie Rogers
Randy & Haleigh Stallworth
Irene Romanelli
Adriano Bernareggi
Luis & Cristina Ospina
Valentina Ciuffi
Familia Briguglia
Leland Cott, FAIA
Mary Daniels, PhD
Casey Jones
Alexi Robichaux
Riley Stallworth
Dalton Stallworth
Mary Coronis
John-Paul Petrash
Anna Cabianca
Elisa Rampone
Damien Shields
Alexandru Ion
Hur and Family
Po-Yi & Renate Liu
John Mutlow, FAIA
Sara Loe, AIA
Janek Dombrowa, AIA
Jerry Larrison

…and many faithful friends in Irving, Austin, Anaheim, and Los Angeles

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