Upcycling Motown-Style With Containerized Condos

The conversion of old shipping containers into habitable spaces has been a growing upcycling trend that appears to be accelerating as we turn the corner into 2013. As admirable as these may be in a green building sense, the aesthetics of these projects has tended to be, well—let’s just say a bit too “functional” for most residential tastes, to use a real estate term.

A new multifamily development being planned for Detroit, however, may change a few opinions on the spartan, post-industrial nature of containerized living spaces. Called the Power of Green Housing Development, the project, designed by Detroit architect Steven C. Flum, will transform 93 used shipping containers into a permanent, 4-story condominium/apartment complex with 17 to 20 units.

Artist's rendering via Steven C. Flum, Inc.

Artist’s rendering via Steven C. Flum, Inc.

According to Flum, the development is slated for construction in the Midtown section of Detroit, near Wayne State University, and will be the first luxury condo project in the United States to be built out of shipping containers. Many of the units will include balconies, decks and floor-to-ceiling windows, while some first-floor units will have spaces for outdoor lawns and gardens.

While no information was provided yet about the interiors of the units, Flum said the project “will also use manufactured green building materials and finishes in the build-out of the units.”  Other energy-saving features will include a reverse cycle air conditioning system, tankless water heating and overhangs to provide shading.

Artist's rendering via Steven C. Flum, Inc.

Artist’s rendering via Steven C. Flum, Inc.

Residents will not be confined to any single 20-foot container; the design will link several containers together to include a series of studio, 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units, ranging in size from 960 to 1,920 square feet. Each unit will also come with covered parking spaces on the bottom floor of the structure.

Frum said in a statement about the Power of Green project that the estimated 21,000 shipping containers that arrive in this country every day inspired him to come up with a practical end use. Most of them come from China and end up staying here after just one voyage “because it’s cheaper to build a new container, rather than shipping it back for reuse,” he said. “There are hundreds of thousands of used shipping containers in stockyards across the country without a use or purpose.”

The modular, easily stackable steel containers, Frum added, will help reduce construction costs, increase the density of the residential area and “do a good deed for the globe” by cutting down on the use of wood as a building material.

Randy Woods is a Seattle-based writer and editor with 20+ years of experience in the business publishing world. A former managing editor of Seattle Business, iSixSigma, Claims and Waste Age magazines, he has covered topics that include newspaper publishing, entrepreneurism, green businesses, insurance, environmental protection and garbage hauling (yes, really). He also contributes to the Career Center Blog for The Seattle Times and edits a photography magazine called PhotoMedia. When not working, he likes to hide out in Seattle movie theaters and attend film festivals—even on sunny days.