Commercial/Institutional Projects

The DC Container Apartment Building – Final Product

SeaUA  Housing  Travis Price Architects24

If I had to say what was the best project I have ever worked on as an engineer in the 33 years since I graduated from the University of Maryland, it has to be the shipping container apartment building on 3305 7th Street in Washington, DC.  It was a rather unusual project in how it started as far as I was concerned.  I was working on a job in New York, and I stopped in Washington, DC to visit my sister on my way home.  While I was at my sister’s house, I got a call from a DC area code on my cell phone, so I went ahead and answered it – normally I don’t answer my cell phone when I am visiting people, but this seemed a bit different.  The call was from Kelly Davies at Travis Price Architects.  She had a shipping container building project that had an investor, and a contractor.  Her firm was an established architecture firm in Washington, DC.  Was I interested?  Of course, and not only was I interested, I could meet with her that afternoon, since I just happened to be in the area.

We met in a conference room in the Acela Lounge in Union Station, and the meeting went very well.  Travis Price came in and joined us, and we came to a preliminary agreement.  A couple days later I had the contract and we began design.  Since DC is fairly easy to get to from here in Atlanta, I went up to work in their office a couple of times.  The design basically started in April, the house was permitted, and finished by October.  For this size and complexity of a project I have never seen it done this fast.  I’ve seen permitting take longer than this.  Of course it took some very fast reaction times.  One morning I was in Binghamton, NY waiting on the bus to New York City, and I got a frantic e-mail needing some sort of letter from me.  I wrote the thing in the waiting room of the bus station and sent it back before I got on the bus ( I really, really hate airports so I will do anything to avoid flying, even if it means riding a bus – which is actually kind of fun ).

What amazed me is the publicity we got.  The project got on page one of the Washington Post on the day the containers came in.  We were featured on news outlets all over DC and covered nationally.  Not all the reviews are positive for this project, which is expected.  Many are ignorant – like comparing shipping containers to house trailers.  Structurally  this building is very stout and I thin has a life span of about 200 years.  Others didn’t like the look, and aesthetics are a matter of personal taste.  Others felt it somehow was wrong to live in a box originally designed for shipping goods.  In such case, you don’t have to live there.

Anyway, here are pictures of the final product taken by a professional photographer:

View of House From 7th Street

Rear Bedroom With Balcony

My favorite part – the kitchen

The Building at Night

Bolting the Corners Together Was A Method I Used To Provide For More Capacity From the Columns


University Lofts Cold Formed Steel Project, Binghamton, NY

Cold Formed Steel Structure

View of ground floor framing.

The University Lofts in Binghamton, NY is a cold formed steel framed building 6 stories high.  The project consists of a replacement for a six story section of an old department store that burnt down, and a two story addition on top of the rear of the existing building.  The main thing about the structure is it is completely cold formed steel.  The sections are all custom roll formed on a Howick Machine, and the trusses and wall panels are pre-fabricated in Winchester, VA and trucked up to New York.  The roll forming and prefabrication was being done by Vanguard Steel and we did the structural engineering.

What I like about this system is the freedom I have as a designer.  Look at this truss:

Pre-fabricated Cold Formed Truss

Pre-fabricated Cold Formed Truss

The web is cut automatically by the forming machine, and if you look at the crimping in the flanges of the top and bottom chords, that is done too as part of the roll forming.  Even the holes for the screws are cut by the Howick machine.

Here’s some photos of the process:

Assembling the Wall Panels

Assembling the Wall Panels

Fabrication of Panels and Trusses Are Done Indoors

Fabrication of Panels and Trusses Are Done Indoors

The System Is Assembled On Site

The System Is Assembled On Site

The easiest way to explain this is to show this video:

Since everything is custom cut directly from the shop drawings by the machine, there is much less labor, and very little waste.  It allows very fast construction.  I like the system because it fabricates directly from the shop drawings to the machine, which provides more assurance that my design is being followed.  I don’t have to worry about all the members being put in the right place, the connections being done correctly, or the right size members being used.

In addition, the trusses like the ones I designed would be next to impossible to do with standard cold formed steel construction – to cut out the flanges and lips in the top and bottom chords and cut the webbing would be horribly time consuming for labor and time.  Yet, this type of truss is phenomenally strong and allows us to make long spans and carry heavy loads.  Using this system they are exceedingly easy to fabricate.

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Movie Studio

This project involved the conversion of a large warehouse to a movie studio.  It had large expanses, but the owner wanted more clear space for the floor, so two columns were removed.  This was a rather difficult undertaking, we explored a few different ideas, and the best idea in terms of construction and cost was to erect large beams under the existing girder trusses to provide the support.  Here’s photos of what we did:

Beam in place

The column has been removed and the beam is ready to erect

Temporary Support

Close up view of the temporary support we designed.

Lifting the beam into place

Lifting the beam into place.

Larger Foundations

We also had to provide much larger foundations

Beam in place
The beams and new columns are in place. The remaining tasks are to install blocking, lateral bracing, and remove the temporary supports.

Marvin Windows, Atlanta, GA


This project was an older retail store that was built in the 1950’s, and had been modified a number of times.  We had to analyze the floor system to determine if it was capable of handling the increased loads from the floor displays, which meant we had to do extensive measuring in order to model the building (no drawings were available).  We also did design work on the fascia of the building, some of the modifications over the years were rather ill advised.



Using Technology Effectively

Multi Story Rendering of Hotel

Here’s a project I’m working on right now, a hotel in Florida.  It’s a 4 story hotel, and we are building the upper stories out of modules made from Cold Formed Steel.  I drew the structural concept in Softplan and showed it to the client today through GoToMeeting.  This can save a lot of trouble when doing a design, because I am able to make sure I am on the right trace with what I am trying to accomplish, and instead of handing the client 2d drawings to decipher, we were able to look at this 3d model and rotate it as needed to see how I plan on doing the structure.  It worked very well.   Additionally, this kind of modeling helps us avoid errors and figure how we’ll run wiring, piping, and HVAC:


Multi Story Rendering of Hotel












This concept was approved by my client, and the next step is to put these together in the hotel.  Right now this is looking absurdly simple, since “all” I have to do is design the walls and framing on the first floor and the stair wells.  Softplan automates a lot of the drafting I have to do, such as the foundations, walls, and so on.  I’m hoping this will speed up the process, I’ll update this post as the design continues.  I have only recently started designing in 3d with Softplan, and I’ve seen my drafting time drop to less than half the time I spent before.

One of the issues as a business owner, or any kind of manager is how you delegate the work.  If you try to do everything yourself, you limit the amount of work that can be done.  Also, there are people that can work for you that can do the jobs better than you can.  The flip side of this is if you hire the wrong person that person can do tremendous damage.  You may spend more time trying to supervise people than you would if you just did the work yourself.  For a business (government agency for that matter) employees cost money, and can drag funds away from other areas where they are needed.

My personal theory is that technology can be used as somewhat of a replacement for delegating to a person.  Coming out of several years of recession and the collapse of my former primary market (housing), cash is not available for hiring someone.  However, for me to spend hours on AutoCAD drawing is not productive either – I have to use a much lower billing rater, and it takes me away from doing more productive things.  The compromise is technology, in this case I am automating by using Softplan to do the heavy lifting for me.  It’s not the perfect solution, but it is a good solution and a way to move forward.

Cartersville Facade

Facade Showing Mural of Historic Cartersville, GA on Aluminum Panels Mounted on an Old Warehouse.

Client: SECO Architectural Products

Location: One Johnson Street, Cartersville, GA

This project was to design the support of a facade to be placed over an old warehouse in Cartersville, GA with a mural showing scenes of Historic Cartervsville, GA.  This project involved the structural design of the aluminum structure behind the facade that mounts it on an old brick textile mill warehouse.  We designed it using aluminum tubes mounted to the building and had to come up with a system of securely bolting it to the existing building and designing a parapet to take the top portion of the facade.  The facade had to be designed to resist wind loads that would try to pull it loose from the building, and keep the parapet it formed at the top from deflecting.

Facade Showing Mural of Historic Cartersville, GA on Aluminum Panels Mounted on an Old Warehouse.

Wayne Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons

The Wayne Clough Undergraduate Commons Building at a Distance - Note the Penthouse at the Top

Architectural panels used as screening for the mechanical penthouse.















Client: Georgia Tech/SECO Architectural Products

On this project, we designed the structure to support the architectural panels on the penthouse.  This design included the steel supports, the welds, and the anchor bolts.

We had to design anchor bolts for the posts in part of the penthouse - this was difficult because the concrete was not thick enough to allow deep embedment.












In the photo on the above, we are looking at the posts used to support the screens around mechanical units on the penthouse.  The top had to stay open to allow crane access, and the slab was of limited thickness – worse, it was a post tensioned slab, so we had to be careful with penetrations.  We designed post installed anchor bolts and the kickers that you see to allow this to work with the imposed windloads (which were very high due to the height of the building.

This is a typical post support in the enclosed penthouse - it is pinned to allow rotation of the post.













The Wayne Clough Undergraduate Commons Building at a Distance - Note the Penthouse at the Top

Ground Water Reclamation Facility Container Building – City of High Point, NC


This container building is composed of shipping containers that were modified to contain equipment for processing contaminated ground water.  The containers are stacked side by side to make a one story facility.  The foundation is a simple turn down slab with grade beams under the corners and center of the containers.  The challenge in this project was that the equipment was installed in the containers up in Canada and transported down to North Carolina.  That meant that after modification (removing much of the sides),  it would be necessary to lift the containers to place them on trucks, and remove them from the trucks and set in place with a very heavy load inside.

This container had most of its sides cut out, but had to have the strength to be lifted with the equipment inside.















In order to be able to accomplish this, the bottom rail had to be stiffened, and we had to stiffen the top of the openings so the forces would transfer.  Since the container had to be shipped, and the containers were to be placed side by side, we had very limiting constraints on what we could do.  So, what we did was stiffened the bottom rail by having a plate welded to the channel to make a box section, and welded rectangular members around the openings.

The bottom rail of the container has been stiffened with a steel plate.















For setting the containers on the pad, we really didn’t need to tie them down since the weight is great enough to hold them in place.  However, during placement it was important to tie them in place so they wouldn’t bump each other out of position.  Also, local inspectors expect to see a tie down to the foundations, and it is easier to get along in such cases.  So to tie the containers down to the foundations, we simply anchored steel angles to the concrete and welded them to the container corners.  Here’s an example:

This is how we tied the corners to the foundation slab.















Here are the containers all set in place:

The containers housing the groundwater remediation equipment have all been set in place.



This is a view of the inside, notice how we stiffened around the openings - this was critical, in order not only to stiffen the container in place, but to allow lifting from the corners.


This was an interesting project because we normally don’t have to design modified containers that have to carry almost their full design load while being transported and put in place.  It went very well, with no small thanks to the work from Piedmont Industrial Services (the contractor placing them), and Jamestown Engineering (civil engineer, surveyor, and construction manager), and of course Purifics, who fabricated the containers.    It was a great team to work with, and they made this a success.

Here is the completed building:

This is the completed treatment building.















This is a view of the inside of LS-2