Recently, I completed a paper and a presentation at Columbia University for the use of shipping containers for modular buildings. Here is my presentation that I prepared. It’s about 45 minutes long, and covers the history of modular buildings briefly, the history of containerized shipping, and how shipping containers have been used for a faster and lower cost way of building.
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:
Sometimes when you build a project the story behind it is interesting in itself. Right now I am sitting in a camp chair on 7th Street in Washington, DC writing this post. We’re putting up the second floor of this three story apartment building near Catholic University. How did this happen? It starts out with Matt Grace and Sean Joiner. Both are Catholic University graduates; who began investing in real estate around the university. They bought homes and rented out to students. The house at this address was in pretty sad shape, so continuing to fix it was not a great idea. It had cracked foundations and many other problems.
As luck would have it, Matt’s girlfriend, Kelly Davies, is an architect who works for Travis Price Architecture. Travis is a well known architect in DC and he frequently lectures at Catholic University, and makes yearly trips to Ireland for various projects. Matt met with Travis, and after some discussion the idea of shipping containers came up. Kelly started the design work and began searching for a structural engineer that does shipping containers. Kelly found me on the web, and gave me a call. As luck would have it, I was visiting my sister in the DC area, so we met about an hour later. This I believe was back in April. I began my design work immediately.
This project, like most container projects required a lot of back and forth work between myself and the architect. When I could work it in my schedule I went to Kelly’s office in Georgetown and worked there. My first iteration was rather expensive, but I didn’t get “do we really have to do this?” (I hate that question) Instead, I got – “what if we do this? ” We developed a number of cost saving innovations in the process.
One of the days I was at Kelly’s office we were discussing who should be the contractor to do the container modifications. The company Cube Box came up, and Kelly called them. It turned out that one of their representatives was in Baltimore, and he came down to see us about an hour later. They got the contract.
I had to get my license in Washington, DC which took about 6 weeks. If I had been one day earlier with my paperwork, it would have been 2 weeks, but that’s how things work sometimes. Still, the permit application went pretty smoothly. There were minimal design comments, which we responded to immediately. Matt walked the plans through the permitting office and got the permit last week. We started yesterday and all the units should be up today. The project is to be completed by mid-August, and Kelly and Matt get married in September.
Our latest project is in Washington, DC at 3305 7th Street NE, near Catholic University. It’s a four story building made from 18 containers, it will have 8 apartments. The architect is Travis Price Architects and we are the structural engineers. The project moved extremely fast, we started design in April 2014 and by the first week of August 2014 the structural part was just about complete. The media attention has been extensive, here is a link to one of the local newscasts. We also got front page treatment from the Washington Post.
Structurally I am using the containers to do most of the work, there is very little extra structural steel added. The biggest hassle was to provide the wind bracing in the basement, I have some massive foundations. Here’s a couple of pictures:
This is a video of a project we designed for 3Twenty Modular in Canada for the Canadian Forces at Cold Lake.
Here’s some pictures taken by the client for the shipping container house in New Haven, CT. This house was built from six containers, and features a more traditional architecture for the front. This project was built by Marengo Structures, and the designer was Christian Salvati. We worked closely with him to produce the structural design, and the intent of the project was to build an attractive house at an affordable price. The house was built on a vacant lot in an older neighborhood in New Haven, Connecticut. The builder wanted to make the house fit well into the architecture of the neighborhood, which consisted of houses built in the 1920’s. To make a container house do this, you have to cover the containers up to a certain extent, which was done in the front of the structure. Please see the video to get the best feel for scope and intent of the Project:
The front is being furred out to allow a more traditional siding to be placed over it.
The final product is above.
The video below provides a very good explanation of the house and shows some interesting views of it while it was under construction:
Architect: Francis Kirkpatrick
Structural Engineer: Runkle Consulting, Inc.
These are photos of the house being constructed
This is the first house in Atlanta, GA built with shipping containers. It was built in 2007, we did the structural design. It is fabricated of 6 containers and sets on top of a four car garage. Since then, an additional house has been placed on the lot next door.