Tiny Tuesday: The Cargominium

We’ve seen shipping containers transformed into single homes, hotels, stores, and farms. How about high-density housing? That’s the premise of the Cargominium, a complex in Columbus, Ohio that when complete will likely be America’s largest shipping container residence.

This Columbus Dispatch article describes the 25-apartment structure, designed by Columbus architect Moody Nolan. It’s three stories tall and consists of 54 8-foot-by-40-foot steel containers. General contractor Chelsi Technologies stacked the modules on-site in one week, over 10 times faster than stick-frame construction would have taken. Each two-bedroom, 640-square-foot unit consists of two containers side by side. Exterior stucco will give the building an appealing facade and hide the containers from view. (Although if that’s the goal, the developer might also consider changing the name.)

Probably the biggest advantage to using shipping containers as structure is the reduction in construction cost. The developer claims the project cost 30% less than a similar-size building built conventionally, mainly thanks to a reduction in labor with the faster installation schedule. Containers also withstand wind loads and earthquakes exceptionally well – they’re built to cross oceans, of course – and have a low embodied energy since very little virgin material is required to make them habitable.

I remain wary of the insulation and airflow systems required for a shipping container interior to provide adequate comfort. But increasing numbers of designers in recent years are making it work, functionally and financially.

The building expects to house people in transition, moving from homeless shelters or rehab facilities. (The purpose is less groundbreaking than the “Housing First” initiative in some cities, but it fills a similar void in that making more housing available to those who need it most.) Thus, it is not just the containers but also the residents who will find a new life for themselves within the Cargominium. There’s something poetic in that.

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