McGraw-Hill Construction | ENR - Shipping Containers Show Promise for Living Space

September 6, 2013 – 11:33

With tens of thousands of empty shipping containers clutteringAmerica’s seaports, one New York City architectural firm has developed a novel idea for converting the ubiquitous metal boxes into low-cost housing and working space. Firm officials are now talking with developers about making it a reality. Click here to view image>>

Mark E. Strauss,principal and director of planning for Fox & Fowle Architects PC,came up with the idea after receiving a speaker’s package for a recent conference on building density. Strauss had been involved with post-9/11 New York City planning and decided to enter the national design competition sponsored by the Boston Society of Architects. BSA was seeking creative ways to help cities and towns deal with sprawl. Contestants were asked to find mixed-use alternatives supporting community life and a livable environment using one of three Massachusetts locations: Boston,Westwood or Gloucester.

"Density is the next frontier in responding to sprawl and in rebuilding livable urban neighborhoods, but we have an irrational fear of it, " says David D. Dixon,principal of Goody,Clancy & Associates,Boston, and BSA president."Fox & Fowle developed an innovative solution allowing them to leverage the design flexibility inherent with density."

The Fox & Fowle team chose an 18.6-acre site in central Gloucester that included abandoned industrial property,open space and woodlands. It was also adjacent to a commuter rail station.

The Strauss team removed the sheathing and used the 8-ft-wide x 9.5-ft- high x 40-ft-long containers as structural components for 351 duplex loft-housing units consisting of four containers. Also included was 170, 000 sq ft of commercial space,including a hotel,and 27, 700 sq ft of civic/cultural space,incorporated in a crescent-shaped development. At-grade and below-grade parking for 593 cars was also provided. Together the plan utilizes about 3, 000 containers stacked eight high on a 345, 000-sq-ft footprint.

The team also noted fitouts could form the basis for an incubator industry in Gloucester. Costs for 5, 000 containers could run about $650 each,according to Philip K. Brewer,senior vice president of The Textainer Group,San Francisco,the world’s largest lessor of containers. "There is real savings in the frame construction as compared to conventional block and plank construction but the modular components such as bathrooms and kitchens can be preassembled for even greater savings, " says Strauss.


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