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Real Estate Creativity in a container

Creativity in a container

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Paul Harral
Paul is a lifelong journalist with experience in wire service, newspaper, magazine, local and network television and digital media. He was vice president and editor of the editorial page of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and editor of Fort Worth, Texas magazine before joining the Business Press. What he likes best is writing about people in detail and introducing them to others in the community. Specific areas of passion are homelessness, human trafficking, health care and aerospace.

Architect Matthijs Melchiors is building individual workspaces from discarded shipping containers.

Matthijs Melchiors is closing in on his dream – an office building made completely of shipping containers.

On Jan. 23, a 140-foot crane added the final containers to the Connex structure at 1201 Evans Ave. – a pair of 40-foot containers that ultimately will serve as part of his office for MEL/ARCH studio, his architectural firm.

“I’ve always been interested in building something out of shipping containers,” he said as he watched the final containers being added to the building. The concept of the building began in about 2015 or early 2016 “when we really start getting interested in the idea of creating an office building using shipping containers.”

The building should be ready for occupancy by the summer, he says, with 33 rentable units he hopes will attract startup companies. The idea comes in part from Idea Works Fort Worth, a business incubator that is a program of the Fort Worth Business Education Foundation. That’s where his office is now, and it’s time for him to move into his own space, he says.

The building uses 40 shipping containers ¬– 38 20-foot containers and two 40-foot containers. In all, there are about 275,000 pounds of metal in the building.

Offices will be built inside the containers, which are being stacked and connected in various configurations and welded together. The containers’ doors have been removed and will be replaced by glass, and each unit will have its own environmental control system. It’s slated to be a zero-energy building, Melchiors said.

Shipping containers full of goods arrive in the United States by the thousands but unless they are being used for return trade they are left here because it is not economical to ship the empties back to their country of origin.

“There’s such a wide variety of uses for these containers,” Melchiors said. “A lot of people are turning them into houses.” He’s working on a residential project now. “It’s going to be about five shipping containers and a barrel-vaulted-type roof for the kind of more open space like the living room and dining room,” he said.

In ranching and farming country, they are being used for outbuildings and storage buildings because they are cheap and lockable.

Melchiors was able to buy in bulk, paying about $2,650 each for 20-foot containers and about $5,000 each for the 40-foot containers. The ones he bought are called “one-trippers.”

“They were made in China, brand new, and they only came across one time with cargo,” he said. It’s not economical to return them overseas empty because that’s “just moving empty air around.”

The shipping container concept was developed by Malcolm P. McLean, a truck driver; the first demonstrated use was in April 1956 on a converted oil tanker, the Ideal X, that carried 58 new box trailers or containers from Port Newark, New Jersey, to Houston, Anthony J. Mayo and Nitin Nohria said in a Harvard Business School article in 2005. Ultimately, the process would drop the cost of shipping cargo by more than 90 percent.

Mayo and Nohria said that the concept fundamentally transformed the centuries-old shipping industry and that McLean’s contribution to maritime trade is “so phenomenal that he has been compared to the father of the steam engine, Robert Fulton.” (Before containers, individual pieces of cargo had to be loaded onto ships in a labor-intensive process.)

But that’s beside the point for Melchiors. He’s not shipping goods, he’s trying to jump-start creativity for a community of startup businesses and entrepreneurs.

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