Tag Archive: steel structure

Shipping Container House in Washington DC

Setting First Container

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:

To lift over neighboring homes and trees, a very large crane was required.

Placing Shipping Containers


Here we are setting the first level containers. Note the wrecking bar is being used to pry these into place.

Here is a photo where the container is being lifted into place. If you go through the web, there are more than a few sites that claim a container house is a great DIY project – I hope this shows why that is a bad idea. This takes professionals.


Cutting bolt holes with the plasma torch.

The balconies are being fabricated using structural steel and the containers themselves.

The interior is taking shape.

All three levels are up.




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.

Pictures of Our Projects In Canada

Lifting Into Place - Note supports at ends.

These projects in Canada are in the northern part of Saskatchewan Province and were designed for 3Twenty Solutions.  3 Twenty Solutions provides prefabricated buildings for remote sites that are used by oil companies and mining companies.  These sites are inaccessible most of the year except by plane, and the only way to haul supplies up is during the winter over ice roads for many of the sites.  Since it is hard to get construction equipment to these sites, and the weather is far from perfect, as much as possible must be assembled prior to transport.  So, modified shipping containers fit the bill perfectly in most cases.

Inside a Typical Bedroom












Lifting Modules Into Place












Hallway View



















In the Kitchen – This was more difficult to design because of the open area.












End View of Completed Building














Another View of the Containers Being Lifted Into Place












Lifting Into Place – Note supports at ends.

3d for Residential Structural Design

Structural Rendering of Residence From the Side

This is one of my more recent projects, the architect was dencity Design in Atlanta.  It’s a very difficult house – look at the cantilevers:

3d Structure of Residence In Decatur, GA















This kind of strucutre is difficult to engineer because you have to visualize a very complex 3 shape from a 2 drawing.  To make things easier, the Architect, Staffan Svenson, sent me a rendering done in Google Sketchup so I could visualize what was happening.  I then built a 3 model in RAM Elements software to cover all the different forces we would encounter.  The problem you get is not only vertical forces in a complex structure as this, but the wind action.  How do you brace it?  I used fixed connections to the foundations, which required me to spend time engineering anchor plates, anchor bolts, and very large foundations.  I could do this by hand (and I have) would be very time consuming, and you run the chance of what I call “calculation fatigue” – you do so many calculations you get blind to the errors due to simple mental fatigue.

Here’s a view of the rendering from RAM Elements:

Rendering From Structural Design Program – RAM Elements



Working this way, I was able to model all of the effects of the structure – note how I put in concrete walls in the basement and OSB (Oriented Strand Board) walls on the first and second floors.  All of this could factor into the design.  Once the structural calculations are done, it’s time to do what the illustrious professors I had as an undergraduate didn’t think was important, but is actually critical – translate it into a drawing that can be understood and constructed.  This is a pet peeve of mine, I run into engineers that can’t seem to understand how to develop their ideas into drawings.  In such case you may as not have any ideas.

I personally had two choices for drawing this, well I guess three:

1.  I could send the drawing out to a CAD service with hand sketches of what I wanted.  We could go back and forth for a week or so until I got what I wanted.  Maybe two weeks.  Well, really four weeks.

2.  I could draw it myself in AutoCAD – there is another type of fatigue you encounter when drawing.  After working so hard to do the calculations, now you are drawing all these boring details, and repetitious joists, and then trying to make it all work.  I could do this drawing in about 40 man hours.

3.  Draw the drawing in Softplan, and use exported details from RAM Elements for the connections, foundations, and baseplates.  RAM Exports details in DXF (Drawing Exchange format), so it’s easy to import into Softplan.  Softplan generates drawings in 3d from your floor plans, and automates a lot of stuff like drawing columns, foundations, walls, and joists.  The beauty is you can have a 3d model that constantly updates as you create your drawing.  That way you can catch things you might overlook.  I was able to make sure I had load bearing walls stacking to the floor, and that I had foundations placed properly under all walls.  Also I was able to show the Architect, Staffan, what I was trying to do.  To do this, I shared the model over GoToMeeting with Staffan, and he did point out a few changes I needed to do.  I modifed the drawing, showed the model to Staffan again on GoToMeeting, and finished it.  It worked out really well.

As you can see, I chose Option 3 above.  My father was an engineer also, and he generally did his own drawings.  He could draw well and very fast, and he said the time it took to explain his ideas to a draftsman (women weren’t in the business in his day), he could the same drawing several times over.  I have the same issue.  I can’t hand draw like my father could, I never had to put the time into it to learn the skill like he had.  However, I’ve taken a lot of courses on AutoCAD, and I think I’m pretty good at drawing on the computer.  I’m also pretty fast, so like my father, it’s not worth it for me to use a CAD person.  I do use my son on many jobs because we’ve worked together enough he knows what I want, but some jobs like this I really feel like only I could do right.

Anyway, the design of this project worked out pretty well.  The next stage is construction.  I hope to intimately involved in the construction.  My contract requires the client to contact me for a minimum of two site visits.  I also explained to the builder that I want to go over everything with him to make sure there are no misunderstandings.  The builder told me he has  a great steel supplier, and he understands how critical this structure is.  I have great hopes for this job, the key to making any job work is close communications between all parties.

Here’s a final view of my model in Softplan:

Structural Rendering of Residence From the Side


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.

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

House Design Project

House Design

This interesting project was for dencity design in Atlanta, GA.  It’s an interesting house with multiple cantilevers.  Here is a rendering of the house:

Rendering of proposed house.











The items in red are the steel beams.  Notice we have a cantilever deck on one side, and we are cantilevered over the garage.  This is not an easy thing to design, the beam sizing is hard, the connections are hard, and so are the baseplates and foundations.  To design this, we used Bentley RAM Elements.  Here is the rendering from the software:

This is a rendering for the steel cantilever structure in our structural software.














In the analysis process, RAM Elements solved 132 equations.  I could have designed this by hand, but figuring about 15 minutes per solved equation, it would take me 30 hours.  Considering I tried numerous alternatives, triple that number, it would be more like 90 hours.   Since you can’t just sit and solve equations day in and day out, humans did not evolve to do such things, we’re talking about month to do this design by hand.  That’s for an experienced engineer.  Of course the chance of error is extremely high in such a complex undertaking too – typically on projects this complex in the days before computers another engineer would have to be assigned just to go over the calcs done to make sure everything was done right.

What was the biggest hassle?  There is a bit of a gotcha in the way this house is built.  In the first run of calculations, I had all of the deflections (bending) of the beams in accordance with Code, but the end of the house dipped down a couple of inches, which is not a good thing.  What happened was the beam deflected ever so slightly, and so did the columns, and it all added up. So, I had to make the beams and columns really beefy to make sure there was next to no deflection.  The beneficial effect is the floors feel really solid, which is important in a house with this type of architecture.

Here are some of the pictures of the house under construction:

This picture shows the cantilevered deck in the front.

The house is nearing completion – the sheathing is up, and the contractor is putting on the vapor barrier.

Rear of House

This is the rear of the house – the temporary posts are still in place. This part was harder to engineer than the front part oddly enough.

Rounded Windows

View down the left side (from the street) showing the rounded windows.

This is a good view of the second floor cantilever – the floor feels as solid as concrete when you jump on it.

This walkway crosses a two story foyer to get from the front to the rear of the house. It looks different, but actually this was one of the easier things to design.


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

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