The Anywhere House by James Whitaker

The Anywhere House by Whitaker Studio

Following the publicity whirlwind that engulfed Joshua Tree in the autumn of 2017 we started receiving enquiries about whether the house could be reproduced en masse, or whether we had a design that could be purchased off the shelf. People were making enquiries for holiday resorts in Jordan, or a series of Airbnb retreats across the United States, or sometimes just wanting to buy a unique prefabricated holiday house for Aspen or the Hamptons.

I think a lot of these enquiries came about because the Joshua Tree Residence is created out of shipping containers, so people maybe perceived it as easily transportable. The joy of that
project though is taking something that is highly generic and transportable, and turning that into something very unique and site specific.

Basically, if I was going to design a mass produce-able house the Joshua Tree Residence wouldn’t be it. But that raises the question, what would be my answer to a prefabricated, modular house?

The starting point was that I wanted there to be the potential that no two homes look the same - every client’s home to be unique. And I wanted to create a design that, using standard elements, could create a 5 bed hilltop house or a 1 bed lake edge villa, associated with a hotel.

G:\Projects\180005 - The Modular House\Drawings\WS-180005-P-01-1

So far we've designed 3 different bedroom units, a living room unit, a kitchen unit, a bathroom unit and a study unit, and with time this will be expanded upon. Each unit has two or more openings that can be the point of connection to the next unit, or can be capped with a window or door. So every time you add another unit there are at least 2 orientations for that unit, and with no limit on how many units you can daisy chain together there is an infinite number of possibilities. Each unit has been constrained to dimensions that are transportable by road to allow them to be completely fabricated off-site.

We are currently working towards building the first Anywhere House in spring 2019 on the side of a lake in Alberta, Canada.

The Anywhere House was recently on Dezeen and you can read the article here.

We’re hiring by James Whitaker


Whitaker Studio is on the hunt for an excellent new team member.

We have a bunch of projects scattered around the world, and as the number of projects grows our team needs to grow. We need people to help us turn these projects into reality. Sometimes we’ll need you to come up with great, bold ideas, and sometimes we’ll need you to be able to critique ideas and say it as you see it in a clear and articulate way. Other times we will need you to just knuckle down and get the work done; no questions. Sadly, great work isn’t easily done, and we have no appetite for the average. We work really hard every day to create the best possible designs we can. We want our work to be site specific and original. We want to create work that people haven’t seen before. If you’re happy drawing up the status quo read no further.

But working hard doesn’t mean that we’re keen to work late every night. Sometimes we need to burn the midnight oil but rarely is great work done when tired and worn out. We’ve got friends and family too. If you need to arrange your day around childcare we can make that work. Or if you’d really like to start late on a Wednesday so you can go to yoga that can work too. We will measure you on the work you produce, not the hours you sit at your desk. But this means we need someone with good time management skills. If you always handed your work in late at uni we probably aren’t the right place for you.

So down to the specifics. We are looking for a Part 2 or Part 3 to join our team. A more experienced architect looking to work part time could be a good fit as well. Applicants must:

  • be good at managing their own time,
  • be eligible to work in the UK,
  • be fluent in English, both spoken and written, 
  • have strong detailing skills,
  • be quick and proficient in autocad,
  • have good 3D modelling skills. 3DS Max proficiency is desirable but Rhino + Grasshopper would be considered.

Please include example of detailed design work in portfolio and limit portfolio to 3 pages. Send CVs and portfolios to

Tokyo Comp by James Whitaker

I created the Tokyo Penthouse images a couple of years ago, purely as a portfolio piece blending photography and CGI together. I was looking back at them and thought it would be good share these images of the various stages of creating the image - the raw photograph from the studio, the quick render with a 3D model person as a placeholder to help set up the shot, and then the final composition. When you're after lifestyle images of a property that hasn't been built yet, this is the creme de la creme.

Learn a Living by James Whitaker

Affordable Housing and Qualified People

Four years ago I had an ambitious idea of how to regenerate abandoned corners of our cities. While ambitious though, the idea was pretty simple. It centred around creating a school that would give young people vocational training in construction trades while rebuilding derelict communities. We met some fascinating people as we explored how to develop this into an actionable plan. But ultimately we realised that it would take a considerable amount of time to develop the idea – more than we could muster in our evenings and weekends – and without any resources to help us we parked it. Two years later Assemble won the Turner Prize for a project that had some similarities to ours and we kicked ourselves for not persevering.

Time tumbled along and I considered our moment to have passed. I've now got young children and work is busy, so my free time, that can be devoted to developing the idea, has reduced even further. I had all but forgotten about it. Then a couple of weeks ago I found this business card buried at the bottom of a draw. I was just about to throw it in the bin when I stopped. The idea behind the card is a good one and what we wanted to achieve is definitely worthwhile. So, rather than discarding the idea for good I thought I would share it here. Maybe someone who reads this will want to pick up the idea and take it further, or maybe we'll find some seed funding to help take the idea forward. Certainly, the idea is of little use if it is kept hidden in a draw.

Learn a Living.jpg

I can't remember now what sparked the idea – a snippet on the radio, a conversation with a friend or an email from my parents (they live in Liverpool). Wherever it came from, at its root is a scheme launched by Liverpool City Council in the summer of 2013 to address some of the run down, inner-city terraced houses that lay empty and abandoned across the city. The council planned to sell the houses for £1 each on the condition that they couldn't be sold for 5 years. Successful applicants would renovate the properties and with time this would rejuvenate areas that had been left to fall apart. The scheme has been hugely popular, and recently was the subject of a documentary series on Channel 4.

Street Photo.jpg

The £1 house scheme set me off wondering - is it possible to create an apprenticeship school that would teach young people a skill, and thus a means for earning a living, while simultaneously regenerating areas of a city in desperate need of a boost? At the time I was working for Ron Arad and over lunch breaks I began to develop the idea with my colleague Jessica Barker. Essentially we proposed starting up a school, and this school would buy a street of, say, 30 houses for £1 each. Then over the next educational cycle 30 students would serve their apprenticeships rebuilding these houses. The students could have first refusal on the houses and hopefully a good portion of them would take up the offer of owning a house that they had helped build. Our aim was that at the end of the cycle you would have a group of skilled workers, a rebuilt piece of urban fabric, and a community of people who were now invested in the long term success of the area.

We met with some MPs to discuss our idea and among the most enthusiastic and supportive was George Howarth, the Labour MP for Knowsley, Merseyside. George was very generous with his time and our conversations with him helped evolve our thinking. We also met with Mick Hamill, who was the North of England Director at the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB). Talking to Mick was pivotal to advancing our idea and also to realising the full extent of what we were proposing. From Mick we learnt the educational parameters of offering an apprenticeship and also the social considerations that we would need to be mindful of. There are numerous large construction companies offering apprenticeships already, and so if you are a keen and reliable 16-24 year old there are apprenticeships available. Problems occur when a potential apprentice isn't reliable, and so in a competitive jobs market they get left behind. Essentially, if we wanted to offer something that others weren't we would have to consider almost a social worker element, that could provide students with the support they need to make a success of their apprenticeship. Mick's assessment of available apprenticeships and who didn't get them maybe only explained part of the problem though. Figures from the Department for Education showed that in 2013 there were significant numbers of 16-24 year olds not in education, employment or training.

Number of 16-24 year olds not in education employment or training in Q2 2013

Number of 16-24 year olds not in education employment or training in Q2 2013

Number of Empty Houses per Region in 2012

Number of Empty Houses per Region in 2012

The second area of our idea that developed through our conversation with Mick was what the apprenticeships would need to be. To complete an apprenticeship the apprentice needs to gain experience in a variety of areas. For example it's no good a roofing apprentice spending 3 years working solely on identical, tiled roofs along a street of terraced houses, they need to work on flat roofs, slate roofs, tiled roofs etc.. We would have to make the school operate across multiple sites to ensure everyone got the breadth of experience they need, or partner with other construction sites where our apprentices could gain additional experience as required.

So, we got this far and realised that we were never going to get it all off the ground working on our own, in our spare time. The development of a business plan with accurate cost projections, a syllabus that co-ordinated classroom learning with site activity, and an infrastructure that facilitated the execution of it all was going to take the full-time dedication of a team of people. The additional layer of thinking that Jessica and I could bring to the table is our architectural minds. We wanted to help masterplan the renovation work so that the regeneration takes root and becomes a functioning element of a modern city.

Nearly 5 years later, I look back at this and it still feels like a project worth pushing forward. We still have crumbling portions of our cities in need of life bringing back to them, we still have a shortage of affordable housing, and we still have unemployment. This seemed like an idea worth sharing.

Sid Jacobson by James Whitaker

9/11 Report

Back in November I was taking a flight from LA to San Francisco and got chatting to the guy sat next to me. He was 88 and on his way to spend Thanksgiving with his daughter and family. He was a lovely guy to chat to and, naturally, conversation came round to what he did for a living - it turns out that Sid is a bestselling graphic novel author. After a life spent at Harvey and Marvel comics he has now found his niche writing non-fiction graphic novels. In particular he and his illustrator partner have had great success creating graphic novel editions of the 9/11 Report and the Torture Report

Now, I've never felt inclined to reading the unabridged, 500+ page editions of either of these reports, but condensed down into a more accessible graphic novel version they make for fascinating reading. I got a sense reading the books that these reports aren't necessarily read and digested by enough politicians to make their findings take root. Indeed Sid's motivation for writing these books was to encourage more people to read the reports and enter the debate that they should be stimulating. I found it really interesting to read what the bipartisan, party-independent, perspective is on these major elements of recent American history. And while The Torture Report makes for some depressing reading, it is made even worse by the knowledge that even after the report's publication Trump was out on the campaign trail claiming terror suspects would "talk a lot faster with torture". We live in some sad times.

Thanks Sid - I've come away from that flight far more informed than I was when I boarded the plane and I'm looking forward to reading my way through the rest of your books now.

deDraft's DA Residence by James Whitaker

I just realised that I haven't posted any photographs recently on my blog. So here's a lovely project by deDraft that I photographed back in the autumn.

Grant and his team have got off to a great start to 2018 with this project being shortlisted for this year's Don't Move, Improve awards. My fingers are crossed for them (and my other friends in contention, but mostly for deDraft).

The Most Popular Story on Dezeen in 2017 by James Whitaker

This is a pretty nice piece of news to end the year with - Joshua Tree was the most popular article on Dezeen in 2017 (the world's most influential architecture and design magazine).

It's also been an exciting year for lots of my friends too, who are producing some brilliant work in their various fields. I hope you are all having a lovely holiday and can't wait to see where 2018 takes us all!

Happy New Year,


Joshua Tree Residence by James Whitaker

There have been lots of articles written about my design for a house in Joshua Tree, and thousands of comments about it online. However, I realised that I haven't actually written anything about the design myself. So here's a little bit about it, direct from the horse's mouth.

Earlier this year two girls were over in LA visiting friends and while there they called in to see the producer of the last film they worked on, my client. Having some time to spare, they all went on a road trip together out to Joshua Tree to visit my client's site - about a 3 hour drive from west LA. While there one of the girls said, "you know what would look amazing here" before opening up her laptop and showing everyone one of my images of Hechingen Studio.

Back in 2010 a friend was looking to start an advertising agency in southern Germany and commissioned me to design them an office for their new startup. Sadly their startup stopped before it started and the office was never built, but since then I've been looking for the right client and site to take the concept forward. My client and their site in Joshua Tree are perfect.

The plan of the house has been designed to nestle into the rocks and topography of the site, with the containers orientated to frame views or to gain privacy from the land. For example, the kitchen is orientated to view an east-facing hillside bathed in morning sunlight, framed by a glancing view of a small hill in the foreground and a larger hill in the mid-distance. The ensuite bathrooms are generally orientated to have a rock-strewn hillside right outside, providing privacy to the occupants.

Joshua Tree Residence Site Plan with View Lines

In 3D the location of the containers that reach towards the sky vary between primarily being concerned with drawing light deeper into the plan, and sometimes being concerned with lowering the wall between one space and another. An example of this is using a sky-bound container to lower the wall between the kitchen and the living room, so that while they're separate spaces there's a sense of them being part of the same room.

The plan was carefully composed, so that when you first arrive at the house and all the doors are open, you can stand in the middle of the building and look down all of the spokes of the building. When the bedrooms are occupied large pivoted doors swing across to line through with the walls of the living room making a clean space.

In terms of the climate of the site, the temperature range isn't as great as you might expect. However, one little frustration for residents in Joshua Tree is that the wind can constantly fill your home with dust. The decked area is situated between the northernly containers to reduce this problem and gain some protection from the building and landscape, creating a comfortable, usable space.

You can see more of the project here.

Emulating the landscape of Joshua Tree by James Whitaker

Over the last few months, I have been designing a house for a private client in Joshua Tree, California. As the design developed I thought that it was something that would catch a little bit of attention in the press if I showed it in its best possible light (I never imagined it would go viral). I was already using the computer to make simple 3D maquettes and with the design locked off, it was fairly straightforward to build a detailed model of the house on the computer. The context was the real challenge. The client had provided me with a topographical site plan as a PDF, which I had been sketching over. He had also provided me with photographs of the site, but the photographs weren't quite sufficient for me to use to make some nice images of the scheme - I wanted to be able to surround the building with context, in 360 degrees, so that we could get the shadows and reflections across the building. To solve the context problem I devised this rather satisfying workflow which I thought warranted sharing.

First of all I opened the pdf in Adobe Illustrator and exported it as a DWG. I then opened the drawing in Autocad and scaled it to the right size, cleaned it up, and joined fragmented contours into continuous polylines (I later realised that this could have been done automatically in 3DS Max with SiNi plugins). This drawing was then imported into 3DS Max and each contour was raised to its correct height (this was tedious and I'm unaware of any shortcuts).

With the contours set out in 3D space I then used the Terrain Compound Object to create a surface from the contours. This generates a surface that is detailed but an ugly mesh to work with - it's all triangulated.

Joshua Tree Residence Terrain Mesh

At this point, I identified some areas around the building that where cliffs and rocks, rather than sand surfaces. I duplicated the terrain surface, drew a 2D polyline around the area that I wanted to be more detailed and cropped the landscape surface down.

Joshua Tree Residence Landscape Crop

I then took the cropped down landscape surface and retopologised it using SiNi Software's Sculpt plugin. This gave me a localised area of the landscape that was turned into a neat quad poly surface.

Next, I centred the surface's pivot point to the centre of the surface and then added a point helper to the scene and aligned it to the pivot point. This is to help align the detailed surface in the right place, later in the process.

Joshua Tree Residence Anchor Point

Now I did a quick UVW Unwrap on the surface.

Joshua Tree Residence unwrap UVW

I moved the surface to 0,0,0 in model space and exported it to Mudbox. (I found that if I didn't move it to 0,0,0 first I had difficulty viewing the mesh in Mudbox.) With the UVW mapped, nicely regular mesh in Mudbox I could work detail into it easily, before taking it back into 3DS Max and using the helper to locate it in the right place.

Joshua Tree Residence Mudbox

The final step was just to adjust the original, main landscape surface so that the detailed surfaces sat over it well. I made a bunch of rocks in Mudbox and then used Forest Pack Pro to scatter these and vegetation over the landscape.

SiNi's plugin was really the kingpin in this process. If you do visualisation work and aren't familiar with SiNi I recommend that you check them out.

Intermodal Europe by James Whitaker

Joshua Tree Residence

On Wednesday I'm going to be talking about Hechingen Studio and Joshua Tree Residence at Intermodal Europe in Amsterdam.

Intermodal Europe is the world-leading exhibition and conference for companies associated with the container and intermodal industries...

If you're in Amsterdam over the next couple of days drop me a line and we can have a beer!

Family Tree by James Whitaker

This summer was my mum and dad's golden wedding anniversary. With the whole family gathered in Liverpool to celebrate I took advantage of the moment and photographed all their sons, daughter-in-laws and grandchildren. Here's a little selection.

Australian National Maritime Museum by James Whitaker

The Australian National Maritime Museum's latest exhibition - Container: The Box That Changed The World - has just opened and Hechingen Studio is part of the show.

The photograph above is by Andrew Frolows/Australian National Maritime Museum and the model was made for the exhibition by Make Models, Marrickville, New South Wales. I believe an image of the Joshua Tree Residence is being used as well.

If you're in Sydney the exhibition is open daily 9.30am - 5pm.

Joshua Tree Press Roundup by James Whitaker

Bored Panda Facebook Post

What a crazy couple of weeks! In September I contacted Dezeen about a house that I'm designing at the minute and it ended up being their most popular article for 10 days. It went viral. Forbes wrote about it. The Metro would like to see it on Airbnb. One reader of Bored Panda thought that it would increase his chance of being abducted by aliens. CNN featured it, as did Huffington Post Deutschland, The Sunday TimesDwell, Archdaily, Elle Decoration NetherlandsCurioctopus, Curbed, Inhabitat, Casa Claudia, Ignant, Hypebeast, Design Boom, Demilked, Konbini, The Awesome Daily, Inside Hook, Plain, World Architecture Community, Mind Body Green, New Atlas, Architectura Viva, Interesting Engineering... There are a whole load more articles out there to explore but even this shortened list is very flattering. I'm looking forward to the next stage now! 

Photography on a Postcard by James Whitaker

Space Explorer Jack by Whitaker Studio

Photography on a Postcard is opening tomorrow at The Printspace and this image from my series Space Baby is going to be part of the show. For £50 you can buy a lottery ticket which guarantees you one of the prints, you just don't know which one. It could be this photo of Jack or it could be a Wolfgang Tillmans image.

All proceeds are going to the Hepatitis C Trust’s campaign to eliminate hepatitis C from the UK by the year 2030.

You can get your lottery ticket here.

ToyDrop is on a mission by James Whitaker


After months of hard work and careful planning, my sister-in-law launched her shop of wonderful toys earlier this week. 

Quoting her website verbatim, she says, 

“ToyDrop is on a mission and that mission is simple: to raise a generation of kind, happy, sociable kids who grow up appreciating their things and the world around them. It's why all our toys are chosen to transcend age, gender and trends to form a collection of heirloom pieces that create conscious consumers from the very start.”

Not a bad mission to have, I’m sure you’ll agree! 


For all the discerning architects amongst you, this jigsaw puzzle looks great!  Perfect for a small child or an architects’ office secret Santa? I get the Bank of China building, Hong Kong, and the Gerkin, London, but after that I need a little help. Any suggestions?

Creating 2D Splines in 3DS Max by James Whitaker

I've just been doing some concept design work in 3DS Max. With the design finished I needed to extract a 2D drawing that I can clean up in Autocad and then pass on to the set builders. It's a little bit of workflow that is always helpful to do with architectural projects, say when you're working on a competition, but can be a bit of a pain.

Well, I'm quite pleased with this workflow in the end. I viewed my 3D model in elevation or plan and drew splines over it using the 2.5 snap. This is pretty quick to do but can leave you with lines floating all over the place in 3D space which are then a pain to work with in Autocad. Scribe by SiNi Software has a flatten spline button, and with a click of a button your splines are all flattened to the C-Plane. Ta da!

What Paul Daniels told me about halos by James Whitaker

Paul Daniels portrait by James Whitaker

Paul Daniels was a really lovely guy to photograph. He was warm and friendly, and incredibly generous with his time. I met him in his dressing room before a show and Debbie McGee was there, repairing his jacket. There was the obligatory magician's rabbit hoping around. It was everything I could have hoped for from a meeting with the celebrity TV magician of my childhood.

As we walked down the street to where I wanted to take the portrait Paul started to explain to me the origin of the halo. He explained that back in the day sculptors started to add disks above the heads of their famous subjects to prevent their face from becoming awash with bird poo. With time this purpose was forgotten and the discs were simply associated with important people, and then in turn saints.

Now, a lot of my knowledge comes from stories like this. Often the stories are told to me in the pub where alcohol may have been consumed. Despite the world wide web being on my phone, in my pocket, I don't fact check these things. Wikipedia is not consulted. Had I referred to Google I would have found countless articles about the origins of the halo, almost none of which refer to bird excrement. But then why let facts stand in the way of a good story?