Now that the micro-apartment trend has established itself in Washington, D.C. in a rather dramatic fashion, another buzzy green building movement — one that involves transforming rusted metal boxes into comfortable living spaces — is now making its inaugural appearance in the nation’s capital.

The District’s first shipping container apartment development, a four-story affair consisting of 18 retrofitted cargo containers and boasting an occupancy of 24, was erected in typically speedy fashion this past week in the Brookland neighborhood. Much like the twin cargotecture projects in New Haven, Conn. that I profiled back in February, the shipping container digs in Brookland are geared as an affordable housing option for college students, which, considering the project’s location right down the street from Catholic University, there are plenty of in the area.

Dubbed Sea UA, the project itself is decidedly very student-friendly: each of the building’s four levels (three levels consisting of six welded-together containers each plus a basement level) will have a single six-bedroom, six-bathroom apartment. Each of these apartments will have a shared kitchen, living area, dining room, and laundry room.

The young co-owners of Sea UA, Matt Grace and Sean Joiner of Brookland Equity Group, are Catholic University grads themselves. For the last several years, they've been moonlighting as landlords, renovating down-and-out properties near the university and then renting them to students.

After purchasing a beyond-repair home with structural issues at 3305 Seventh Ave. NE in 2009, Grace and Joiner ultimately came to the conclusion that they’d need to demolish and rebuild anew. This is where the idea for a multi-unit structure built from shipping containers came into play as the most feasible — and affordable — option.

“You go from something you can rent to a big hole,” Grace, who works as a finance planner when not investing in real estate, tells the Washington Post of his and Joiner's decision to raze the rental property this past winter.

Working with architects Travis Price and Kelly Davies (herself an architect at Price's eponymous firm and also Grace’s fiancée and fellow Catholic Univesity alumna), the duo decided, after some convincing, to go the cargotecture route.

As it turns out, shipping container housing was something that Price, a lecturer at Catholic University and pioneering green architect, has been keen on exploring for years — “I wanted to do this since I was in college myself” — but never had the chance to realize.

Elaborates the Post:

Now, he’s [Price] reached back into what he calls his 'spiritual backpack' with a chance to figure out if building a sea container apartment really makes sense. While designers around the world have crafted creative dwellings out of containers in recent years, Price’s clients have balked once they have seen the cost of the radical modifications they expect in the simple rectangular structures. Here, though, ‘we’re actually using those existing units, and we’re not violating them dramatically,’ Price said. ‘That makes the difference. You cut and paste. We could be a lot more theatrical, but then you pay.’

With the 6-ton containers now positioned on site via crane and in the process of being welded together, the Sea UA team expects to finish up construction by the end of August — just in time for the school year. All four units have been already scooped up by roommate-friendly tenants.

And while the process has gone swimmingly so far for this newbie cargotecture team in terms of permitting, logistics, and the like, there is, not surprisingly, the issue of neighbors. Many Brookland residents aren’t exactly too hot on the striking new addition to the "traditional" landscape of the neighborhood.

Grace explains to WJLA: “I think we might have been a little bit native on the attention we’d get. I figured there was gonna be some people that wouldn’t like it and like the traditional look better. But, there are some people who don’t like traditional.”

Julie Mullen, a graduate of Catholic University, is one admirer of the project who doesn't necessarily go for the traditional: “I think it’s cool. It’s a good way to make use of something that would probably be recycled anyways. So, go green, I guess. Why not?

Via [Washington Post], [WIJLA]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Retired cargo containers converted into student housing in Washington, D.C.
Generating both excitement and predictable grumbling from locals, D.C.'s first shipping container housing project is quickly taking shape.