Building Corten Castles – Part One

Greetings, readers!

Recently, we began working with a client who is beginning the process that will lead him to building ISBU (Shipping Container) based affordable rental housing in the Deep South. During the course of the consulting conversations with him, we found him so inspiring that we felt the need to share some of the communications with our readers.

This client isn’t your average “joe-blow”. This guy is miles deep. This is a “high profile” guy with a Development portfolio that would make many of us envious. With decades invested in the trade, he “gets it”. He’s not using other people’s money to do this. He believes in ISBU housing so strongly that he’s doing this himself with his own resources. He sees what many of us in the industry see; as the economy turns, it has taken many of the home buyers out of the marketplace. The nation’s financial conditions have made people think twice about going out and jumping into the marketplace and buying a new McMansion. People are worried about what will happen next, as the Presidential Election looms. As a result, rental properties have become a solid focus in the industry. This means that more and more rental units and homes are being produced to fill the needs of the people of this great nation.

Our client (we’ll call him “Brian”) knows that there is a need for energy efficient, affordable, sustainable rental housing in the South and he can provide it. He’s operating on beliefs and principles that are right out of our playbook, in fact. It’s like he’s a disciple we never knew we had and we’ve welcomed him into the fold. He’s the newest member of our Corten Congregation”. LOL!

As we discussed “Corten Country”, we discussed the misinformation that many harbor where ISBU housing is concerned.

Many think ISBU life is based on “apocalyptic migrant camps surrounded by derelict cars and burning barrels of trash”.

While this is often the result of watching Hollywood’s depiction of “Sci Fi Shanty-towns”, nothing could be farther from the truth.

The truth is that ISBU homes look just like everyone elses around you. Sure, they’re influenced by the tastes and culture of their builder-owners, but for the most part, unless you actually witnessed the being constructed, you’d never know about their Corten Steel origins.

After I’d spoken to him at length, I started thinking about addressing all the obstacles we face when we build these projects.

The first step one takes is considering the views and opinions of those around your project. This often means educating housing authorities and neighbors and increasing their levels of understanding. After all, no one wants to be accused (falsely) that they are the the ones that lowered the neighbors property values,

As we started reflecting on the path, we started contemplating the writing a “White Paper” series on ISBU housing. It didn’t start out that way. In the beginning it was just a casual exchange of information between professionals in our trade. But the information is so relevant that we thought we’d share some of it with you.

So, we’re going to extract excerpts from it and post them to help others increase their knowledge and awareness about ISBU (Shipping Container) homes and their construction.

A relevant discussion about ISBU (Shipping Container) housing with other building authorities (and neighbors) will probably address the following questions;

  • What are ISBUs and where do they come from?

  • What is “upscale architecture”?

  • Why are ISBUs used as materials in residential and commercial builds?

  • What difficulties do Builders experience when using ISBUs?

(While we’ve actually consulted into Film and assisted Hollywood Film Production Directors design and then build these “film fantasy wasteland wonders” on several occasions, we find it almost ironic. It does sometimes feel a bit hypocritical to actually assist in the building of these stereotypical steel constructs that fuel the fires of dissent and even lend support to wild claims that ISBU housing is the death of neighborhoods and even civilization as we know it. LOL!)

But I digress…

What are ISBUs and where do they come from?

ISBUs are simply shipping containers used by the freight industry – once they’ve been “decommissioned” and turned into housing components. ISBU stands for “Intermodal Steel Building Unit”. The reasons that we use them are legion and one of them is that they are available by the hundreds of thousands as the remnants of a freight shipping transportation industry that abandons them because it’s more expensive to return them empty to their place of origination (thank you “Trade Deficit”)  than to dump them into a seaport or railyard as monolithic mountains of unwanted steel and simply write them off. The simple truth is that converting these wonderful steel boxes into housing and other structures is actually more energy efficient and environmentally responsible than “recycling” them.

We’ve spoken at length here on the blog (and in our books) about where ISBUs come from. A quick search of the blog will reveal those facts.

What is “upscale”architecture?

In Europe, “upscale architecture” is far more commonplace. “Upscale Archtecture” is basically “modern” architecture, once you get past all the hype. It’s usually “trending” based and some would describe it as “futuristic” or “advanced”. Overseas, ISBU housing is a much easier sell. After all, it’s everywhere that you look. Builders and Developers build using materials that are readily available. In many of these foreign nations, seaports are an easy reach. You can’t drive along the European Coast in some locations without finding yourself embraced by the shadow of these man-made mountains of metal.

ISBU housing has proven itself to be scalable, energy efficient, affordable and easy to construct in both low and high density environments. You cannot Google “shipping container housing” without seeing scores of images of Student housing in Europe, for example.

In America, “traditional minds thinking along traditional lines” see conceptual housing like Shipping Container Homes and they immediately knee-jerk. It’s just “not normal”.

But if you ask me, that’s NOT a deficit, it’s a boon.

Why do we use ISBUs?

Building with shipping containers is like building with a child’s Lego toys. You can add blocks, move them around and experiment with their arrangement at whim.

They’re just Corten Steel building blocks.

That’s the beauty of ISBU housing. It can provide and even look like anything you can imagine.

The ready-made nature of ISBUs speed construction and the Corten Steel structure adds additional security during earthquakes and hurricane seasons.

Are there difficulties in using ISBUs as building materials?

People exploit and distort the “huge” differences between ISBUs and conventional housing. IMHO, it’s ridiculous. ISBU homes – once processed past the actual “metal fabrication” stage and the removal/replacement of the pesticide laminated floor decking – are exactly the same as traditional ones in the use of construction materials.

The same trades/skills are required in their conversion/construction and the same material resources and distribution channels are employed.

Contrary to popular opinions – there isn’t a perceivable loss of jobs or skills required to build ISBU housing. The workers and their missions are are simply “re-defined”.

Next time, we’ll discuss some of the confusion about ISBU construction/conversion practices and the benefits of ISBU Housing.

Stay tuned!

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