Construction starts on shipping container housing

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News
  • Three-story model unit will showcase new technology, shipping container living
  • Part of a three-phase development that includes another development in Midtown
  • Developer says dozens already interested in new units

Ask Leslie Horn where the model unit is for the long-awaited residential development her company is building — the one made entirely of recycled steel shipping containers — and she laughs.

"You can't miss it," says Horn, CEO of Three Squared Inc., a commercial, residential and mixed-use property development company.

She's right. Construction started last week on a three-story model unit, Trumbull Squared, on the southwest corner of Trumbull and Pine, just north of Interstate 75. Made of nine old shipping containers, it'll be used to sell units for the next two phases of Three Squared's project — a 20-unit shipping container development in Midtown and another behind the model unit in Corktown.

Shipping container living is all about "sustainability and energy efficiency," say Horn. "You're living in a product that was made really fast and it's extremely energy-efficient."

The project is Detroit's first residential shipping container development — and it's been a long time coming. Construction was supposed to start in early 2014 but financing pushed back the timeline. Then, just before Horn and her partners were to close on property in Corktown for the model unit last fall, the sale fell through.

The challenges were worth it, says Horn, who says the failed land sale forced them to buy their own property. They now own nearly 4 acres in and around the Corktown model unit, going all the way to Kaline.

When a crane lifted the containers into place for the model unit last week — taking just six hours and 15 minutes to snap all nine containers into place — it "was a really proudful moment," says Horn.

The model unit's first two floors will display and showcase the technology of shipping container living and what it is all about.

"The third floor is a one-bedroom unit in and of itself," says Horn. "People can actually go up to it and really look to see what container living would look like."

Once the 2,880-square-foot model unit is complete — which should be in June — the exterior will be a mix of siding, brick and exposed steel. It'll be used to pre-sell units for Rosa Parks Squared, a 20-unit development at the corner of West Warren and Rosa Parks in Woodbridge, and more units behind the model unit.

"Eric Lloyd Wright (renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright's grandson), who is our chief architect, is going to design a whole bunch of row houses and then a big apartment complex," Horn says. "... We're going to show all the versatility of what we can do."

Before they became housing units, it's unclear what the shipping units carried in their previous lives. Horn says she knows the cargo was non-toxic. Three Squared buys the container from a company that puts them through a 12-point inspection. Each container is then cleaned and painted.

Horn says dozens of people have already expressed an interest in the units, which will range in size from 820 square feet to 1,940. Each unit will be priced at market rates, says Horn. Quicken Loans has reached out to Horn about housing for new employees.

Even the response from fellow Corktown residents has been great, says Horn, who says some have approached her about developing other parcels of property near the model unit.

On Tuesday, a truck driver slowed in front of the model unit and rolled down his window to yell at Horn, who stood on one of the first-floor balconies — made, of course, from a shipping container.

"Can I be your first tenant?" he asked.

"Yes!" shouted Horn with a smile.

"This is the kind of stuff we get all the time," says Horn. "...We're creating new history and we want people to be proud of it."

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