Box Office

The first building in Rhode Island made from recycled shipping containers is available for lease as office space

About this Property

Proposal & Construction

From the website of Durham Polak, development consultants

Fabricated from 35 recycled shipping containers, The Box Office transformed a vacant and abandoned Brownfield site at the urban periphery into a collaborative office and incubator space targeted to small companies […].

The project consists of approximately 12,000 SF of newly constructed office space at the site of the former Harris Lumber warehouse on Providence’s west side. The building uses approximately 50% less energy than a typical new construction office building (22 kBTU/SF/yr) and less than most LEED platinum buildings; energy use is further reduced by a rooftop PV solar array. The Box Office has been a magnet for small companies, and has been near capacity throughout an economic recession.

From Peter Case, on the construction process

The whole thing was erected in one week. The 35 containers were in Cranston in a yard where we made the modifications and installed the windows. They were then trucked to the site. In addition to the containers being stacked, we also installed columns (not shown) on the interiors to handle the structural loads once the interior sides are cut out. (The walls that are removed are being welded to the roofs of the exposed containers for structural reinforcement.) The rendering shows “a double wide” unit with the reinforcing columns and interior walls cut back to form a “beam” in the center of the unit. Next come stairs and platforms so we don’t need scaffolding to access the interiors during construction. Then comes the seams between containers so that we can spray in the insulation and make the building water and weather tight.

Design Reception

We love the design of this building and the way it fits in while also adding to an industrial area with industrial materials. The way the stacked Lego-like containers jut out and cantilever gives the structure some drama, and the colors make it playful instead of harsh and metallic. We actually had the pleasure of working in this building on the 3rd floor for two years. We liked it, though the metal could make it very cold in the winter at times. We especially love that many of the original tenants still occupy offices in the 12 available spaces.

It also does not hurt that the building reused material that would otherwise be sold to China for scrap. The building was constructed for about half the cost that new construction would cost at a difficult time after the 2008-2009 economic and housing market crash, as the news story below details. We love that the building is also greener than most LEED platinum buildings. To us, its all around brilliant.

In the News

Building An Office Of Shipping Containers

by Catherine Welch
WRNI, Public Radio reporting | September 23, 2010

In the beginning of the recession, shipping containers began stacking up on American shores. Architects saw an opportunity to recycle these relatively cheap building materials into homes and other living spaces.

In Providence, R.I., designers have constructed what may be the first permanent, multistory office building in the United States made entirely from shipping containers.

Several times every day, passenger trains travel through Providence, passing a Smurf-blue building with a shock of yellow and green. The structure looks like it’s made from Legos and often grabs the attention of riders zipping past.

“When Amtrak goes by, it’s a little event. And they look up from their computer and watch it go by,” says Peter Case, who owns and helped design the building made entirely from cargo shipping containers — steel, rectangular boxes carried on trucks and trains.

”Let The Container Be A Container‘

The three-story complex is divided into two sets of offices with a canopy made from the sides of containers covering an exposed central hallway.

“Our mantra was let the container be a container whenever possible. So we don’t hide the dings,” Case says.

Dings and all, the building cost $1.8 million — half the cost of his original plans for a conventional building, which Case scrapped when the economy tanked. There was no precedent in the U.S., so he had to convince Providence officials, who were a little hesitant at first.

Then he bought shipping containers for $2,000 each and welded two or three of them together, cutting out the sides to create an open floor plan.

Inside, it feels like any other office space. It took Case and his team six months to design and figure out the basics like installing windows, electric and plumbing. It took just four days to truck in the containers and plunk them down on-site.

The building is now open for business, and website consultant Chris Murray is the first renter. He recognized it from a Craigslist ad and had to check it out.

“We decided to come here because it is a really unique and neat place,” Murray says.

Portable And Cool, But Still A Challenge

The office in Providence is not the first building made from containers. Container homes and art studios are sprinkled around the U.S., and there is a school in Mexico made of the steel boxes. One nonprofit called Containers to Clinics is turning containers into health clinics for poor and rural countries.

These structures may be portable and look cool, but don’t expect to start seeing them everywhere, says builder Joshua Brandt.

“If building with containers was like a fundamentally superior way to build things, people would build out of containers all the time. And the reason why they don’t is because it is very challenging,“ he says.