Grown-Up Boxcar Children: Detroit’s Cargo Houses

Imagine rebuilding a city in today’s day and age. What are the considerations you’d make? What values or mission would you try to stick to when designing your new city?

Comfort? Luxury? Fashion?

What about: Sustainability? Durability? Cost effectiveness?

Detroit’s in a bit of a unique position right now, in that it’s going through a rebuilding of sorts. With old, dilapidated buildings coming down and community movements and entrepreneurs moving in, there’s an awful lot of opportunity for trying something new. Pretty much, if you can pay for it, keep it up, and do no harm to the neighbors, you can do it in Detroit.

Enter Three Squared, Inc.

While we were driving through our Weird Homes Tour of Detroit neighborhoods – on which we also visited the Fortress of Fun and Detroit Abloom – we stopped at a house labeled “3-Story Cargo House.” We weren’t quite sure what to make of that description, but we were game for checking it out. As it turns out, the house in question was a showroom for Three Squared, Inc., an architectural firm that specializes in building these quirky constructions.

 

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From the outside, the house is boxy, certainly, and you can tell it was made from cargo containers. However, with the balcony and porch built onto it, it doesn’t look all that out of place in a city neighborhood. Our interest piqued, we stepped inside.

On the inside, it looks like any other house. The showroom had three levels, and the third level was designed to show what a single-story apartment would look like. Let me tell you, I’d have no trouble living there at all. You wouldn’t think that shipping containers would be so roomy, but it was the perfect size for a single person or couple (or single person and a cat, as the case may be).

 

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One of the most impressive things about these houses is how energy efficient they are. I asked one of the Three Squared team members how warm it stayed in winter (an important consideration up here in the northern parts), and she said that they kept the showroom at a consistent 68 degrees, and their energy bill was no higher than for a building of similar size. As it turns out, shipping containers are made to be weatherproof, so with a bit of added insulation, they’re quite energy efficient.

Not only that, but because these houses are made out of old shipping containers, fewer new materials are used in the construction of the house, meaning that it’s more eco-friendly to build a cargo house than you might initially think. The cargo holders are sourced from all around the US – and while I’m sure that there are some sort of criteria for accepting a cargo unit for use in construction, the process is still probably much better than whatever other uses an old shipping container would be put to in its retirement.

 

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My dad and I both commented that if they could figure out a way to fit out the containers in a very quick, almost factory-like setting, they’d be a great alternative to mobile homes or low-income housing projects (I’m sure Three Squared is working on a way of producing more of these homes, although their current market seems to be bespoke projects). This is just another way Detroit is showing not only its resilience, but also its own brand of edgy creativity.

 

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