Minneapolis could get its first building made of shipping containers

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 21, 2014 - 9:25 PM
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rendering provided by LOT-EK

Photo: Rendering provided by LOT-EK,

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The North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis is an eclectic mix of restaurants, coffee shops and brick warehouses converted into lofts and condos.

But in what would be a first-of-its-kind in the Twin Cities, a developer is proposing making a new office building out of shipping containers.

Local marketing firm Akquracy is behind plans to build what founder Scott Petinga says would be the largest shipping container building in North America. The three-story, 18,500-square-foot structure would use 60 identical 40-foot containers to form a rhombus framing a ground-level park and plaza.

Shipping containers have become a trendy medium for some new buildings because they are abundant, strong and relatively cheap.

The architecture firm that designed the building, New York-based LOT-EK, has used shipping containers as the basis for designing buildings and mobile pop-up shops across the world. One of Akquracy’s clients is Puma, which used LOT-EK to design a mobile retail and event structure called Puma City.

“If you look around the North Loop, the one thing that everything has in common is buildings were built to last,” Petinga said. “Modern buildings aren’t necessarily built to last. So I’m trying to bring some of that craftsmanship back.”

Petinga purchased the site at 5th Avenue N. and 3rd Street N., which he says has been vacant for 98 years, in 2013.

The proposal would house Akquracy on the upper floors, as well as co-shared “incubation space” for local entrepreneurs. The ground-floor would feature a restaurant-cafe space, retail and a plaza with an array of public seats. Since the building is not square, there is much more open space between the structure itself and the curb.

“We’ve built it in such a way where we’re looking for residents to come hang out. We’re looking for people essentially who work in the neighborhood to come out, to spend a little bit more time in the North Loop,” Petinga said. “Instead of just coming in, coming to work and then leaving immediately after.”

Renderings show that the building would use green shipping containers from the massive Taiwan-based shipping company Evergreen. The exterior of the building would featured diagonal windows sliced into the containers.

Petinga hopes to have it complete by May 2015. Among the major obstacles is assembling 60 identical containers, at least some of which will originate in the Twin Cities. He hopes to do more with containers, however, and founded a foundation that aims to build a single-family home for less than $100 a square foot.

“It’s actually stronger,” he said, “more sustainable, more economical at the end of the day.”

But building with shipping containers also can make it more difficult to obtain financing, a reason that a previous plan for the office space fell through, Petinga said. His new bank, North American Banking Co., is more willing to take the risk.

“It’s almost impossible to get funding to build something that’s not status quo,” Petinga said.

Akquracy is currently housed at the former John Deere tractor factory building on 8th Avenue N. and Washington Avenue. They also have offices in Madison and Singapore.

Pat Higgins, the city’s building official, said that the project will receive extra scrutiny from his office because it uses alternate construction methods and materials. He mentioned they will pay particular attention to its structural integrity, durability, fire resistance and meeting energy conservation standards.

“They have to prove to me and I have to approve that they are in compliance with the intent of the building code,” Higgins said. “We will have to scrutinize all of the health and life safety features.”

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