The Box Office in Providence, Rhode Island
I took this photograph of a unique looking building that is made up of recycled shipping containers in Providence, Rhode Island.
PROVIDENCE — Shipping containers, the corrugated steel boxes that are piled high on cargo ships then loaded directly onto tractor trailers, revolutionized the way goods are transported and helped make the modern, global economy possible.
But as the economy sputters, containers are piling up in ports, and there is a movement to give them a second life as apartments and offices. Here in Rhode Island, the first such project will open in the city’s West Side in March on the site of a former lumber company.
Architect and developer Peter Gill Case announced Tuesday his plan to build the Box Office, a three-story building made from 32 recycled steel shipping containers. The 10,000-square-foot building is targeted at start-up businesses and artists, with up to 12 office and studio spaces ranging from 640 square feet to 2,560 square feet.
“Buildings like this one bring new life to these iconic objects,” Case said at the morning ceremony. “My kids ask: Are those Legos? The Lego interpretation is apt. We’ve all seen these modular shapes on trucks, trains, and ships, and stacked up at urban ports as though they were already buildings … Why not reuse them?”
Box Office will be built at the junction of the city’s Olneyville and Federal Hill neighborhoods, near the intersection of Harris and Atwells avenues, which is the former site of the Harris Lumber, which after more than 100 years in operation left the city for North Kingstown in 1997 and was renamed JT’s Lumber.
Tuesday was the official “groundbreaking” and Case, his development team, and Mayor David N. Cicilline planted a single tree to symbolize the project’s commitment to environmentally sustainable, or green, design.
Next to them, three old shipping containers were stacked up, to give a sense of what the building might look like from the street. “The people that work here are not going to be thinking that they’re working in a container, but that they have this really sweet office space that happens to be made out of a shipping container,” says Case.
Case, an architect whose Truth Box Architects has designed Monohasset Mills –– an Olneyville condominium project –– and Bayley Street Lofts, in Pawtucket, says Box Office will cost $1.8 million, making it cheaper to build than new construction.
It will also be greener, using 25 percent less energy than a conventional new office building. It will have no direct use of fossil fuels, with all heating and cooling coming from small, decentralized air-to-air heat pumps. Storm water run-off will be primarily treated by using “bio-swales” or rain gardens, where storm water will be collected to feed plant life.
Additionally, Case plans to offer tenants “green leases” that will give financial incentives for maximizing energy performance.
Green building “is part of the engine that is going to power our economy forward,” said Case, who also intends to build two more “high profile” green buildings in the city in the next five years.
Tenants will pay around $1,000 for a standard 640-square-foot space, which is made out of two containers, and each unit will have ceilings about 9.6 feet high. “That’s big enough for about four desks,” says Case.
The project already has all the design and permitting requirements needed to move forward, with the exception of a city building permit, which is pending, according to Case. The next step will be razing the heavily vandalized steel and concrete warehouse that is the lone remnant from the lumber yard this summer.
Three units are already pre-leased. Case says his company –– located at the Steel Yard, another one of his projects––will take up at least one of them. Case is working with local entrepreneurs Joseph Haskett, of Distill Studio, the project architect, and Joshua Brandt of Stack Design Build, the general contractor for Box Office.
The building is a welcome addition to a blighted area and a model for the sort of green building that that Cicilline said he hopes to make Providence a national leader in. “This area has been long neglected,” said City Councilor John Lombardi, who represents Federal Hill. “What they’re looking to do is certainly something different.”