On an old used car lot in Phoenix, architects Brian Stark and Wesley James placed 16 used shipping containers and turned them into 8 one-bedroom apartments. With the goal of creating market-rate rental units, the architects tried to work with the containers rather than altering them.
The containers are stacked as they would be on ships, using the cam-lock (twist lock) system to lock them in place two stories high. The container doors were left in place – welded open or shut in an alternating pattern – and serve as the main source of daylight. Only a few small windows are cut from the sides of the containers.
“A lot of container projects built here are boutique, they cost a lot of money actually,” explains James. “A lot of the cool container projects you see they’re not built toward a business model they’re people investing in their quality of life or what they want to live in as opposed to the economy of the project.” Adds Stark, “The containers for us was can we get it at market rate rents with kind of a market rate construction type”.
The Containers on Grand apartments (the first container apartments in the Western US) now rent at market rate ($1000/month for a 740-square-foot one-bedroom; the going rate for the up-and-coming arts district just outside downtown).
While this type of construction may never out-compete the area’s “stick and stucco” vernacular, Stark argues that it could compete strongly in a place like San Francisco where labor costs are high.
“Here if it costs us $150 a foot to build versus $400 a foot to build in lets say San Francisco the shipping container still costs the same amount so you’re getting the enclosure and the structure for the same price no matter where you build so it makes a lot of sense there for sure.”
What would prevent this type of building from scaling are codes (there are height limits due to combustion regulations) and financing. Containers on Grand was self-financed (Stark and James became investors, among others), since, as Stark explains, “banks aren’t on board yet with financing a shipping container project”.
[One unit is being rented on VRBO as a nightly rental]