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Friday, May 2, 2008

Living in a Box

posted by on May 2 at 14:02 PM

Remember that British one-hit wonder Living in a Box that performed the song Living in a Box off the album Living in a Box? I know—you were trying to forget. But Mithun Architects is keeping the memory alive. They wanted to live out every vagabond’s dream of converting an old freight container into swank digs. But there’s one catch to the metal cargo-conversion fantasy.

“It’s hard to beat the cost of wood in the Pacific Northwest,” says Joel Egan of HyBrid, a Seattle-based construction firm commissioned to build prototype residential units. So, rather than steel boxes like some pre-fab projects in Australia and England, an apartment building with ground level retail proposed for Dexter Avenue North will contain about 60 boxes built from wood (a pop-up about how they’re built is here).

Two stacked units, at approximately 675 square feet each, look like this:


Together in an apartment building—after being assembled in a warehouse, delivered by truck, and plunked down by a crane—they will look something like this:


The greatest benefits of pre-fab apartment buildings are for the financiers of development. Although the construction costs, according to Tammie Schacher of Mithun, remain the same as on-site construction (the goal is $80-90 per square foot), the construction time decreases by three to six months—reducing the window of investment risk and adding months to collect rental fees. One hopes the savings are passed down to renters.

On the con side is the potential for flat-faced, dinky-looking buildings. The boxes don’t lend themselves to the variety of shapes to create interesting visual relief as on-site construction. However, there are examples, such as one in Manchester (pop-up), which looks quite dashing. In the preferred scheme of the proposal that went up for early design guidance this week, the boxes stood clustered together like several World’s Fair motels connected by pathways through the air. This has roughly the same esthetic effect of giant hamster cages connected by Habit Trails.


We’ll hold out opinion on the appearance until more designs are in, as the city needs more inexpensive apartments and Mithun fucking rocks. As for the dream of converting a cargo container into an upscale slumber tube, “All of us are hoping we can [eventually] get to a metal frame building,” says Schacher.

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Remember that English one-hit wonder Living in a Box that performed the song Living in a Box off the album Living in a Box?

No. But I remember Eiffel 65's Living In a Bubble, which was 65 degrees of awesome.

On the units...

My Jew and I checked those out above Rock Bottom on our technically-second date. It felt like IKEA was raping my eyes. That is all. As you were.

Posted by Mr. Poe | May 2, 2008 2:06 PM

1) Cut a hole in a box
2) Move in to the box
3) Make her open the box

Posted by ... and that's the way you do it | May 2, 2008 2:17 PM

Slums in the making.

HEY! We should make sure this is what they use down in the hood near the train station by MLK and S Rainier! Perfect!

You gots you some real livin' there!

Posted by Reality Check | May 2, 2008 2:40 PM

@1 - To be fair, Poe, your Ikea eye-rape experience was more the fault of the furnishings than the design. I've also toured those two above Rock Bottom, and I found the interior decorations to be unforgivably tacky.

Posted by Hernandez | May 2, 2008 2:49 PM

These are fantastic. Where they really needed this sort of thing is in New Orleans, though, where rapid deployment of new high-standard units was critical (it's too late for New Orleans now, I fear).

But, you know, no one in the history of the universe has ever "passed the savings along to renters". Rents are determined by a market. If they can get more, they will get more.

Posted by Fnarf | May 2, 2008 2:56 PM
But, you know, no one in the history of the universe has ever "passed the savings along to renters"

Sigh... I know. Sad but true.

Posted by Dominic Holden | May 2, 2008 3:01 PM

portable classrooms meet shitty living. how can anyone seriously claim these are better aesthetically, than the condos proposed around seattle.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 2, 2008 3:02 PM


But that's just it: it all fit so well. I probably wouldn't have noticed if it weren't for the IKEA shit, but no, I would have.

Posted by Mr. Poe | May 2, 2008 3:37 PM

Holy fuck, those are ugly. I noticed that the cute renderings don't show the fire-escape stairs necessary to reach every squalid box. Who in their right mind is going to want to navigate those stairs during a typical Seattle October-thru-May rainy winter?

And what are they going to look like once the incessant winter rain paints a slimy green sheen of mold down the metal skin? Like a rickety trailer park stacked four high. Ugh

Posted by Dr_Awesome | May 2, 2008 3:42 PM

Regarding "Living in a Box" by Living in a Box.

My favorite part about the song was that the lyric formed a question.

Am I living in a box?
Am I living in a cardboard box?
Am I living in a box?


Next up. I'm going to demand that Ratt finally tells my why "what goes around comes around." They keep saying they're going to tell me why...and they never do...

Posted by pgreyy | May 2, 2008 3:43 PM

If you're going to let the benefits of prefab outweigh the cons, please, for the love of God, at least put dead space between the units (since the floors and ceilings of these things are presumable already built). It'd only add a few inches to the total height, and would go a long way toward the quality of life inside those things.

The difference between living in a square, prefab little oasis all your own and living in a crappy box is common walls.

Posted by Dougsf | May 2, 2008 3:47 PM

@10 - ha ha ha ha ha

Posted by Dougsf | May 2, 2008 3:54 PM

Wonder what sort of seismic perf you get out of a bunch of stacked-up stapled-together boxes. I'd guess lousy...

Posted by whatsThatRumble | May 2, 2008 4:03 PM

Dom, you might have made a little error...

The units in the first picture were built by RAFN. But the unit order in the Unico project was awarded to HyBrid. I'm not sure that they'll be using the same design.

Posted by Hey wait | May 2, 2008 4:13 PM

@ 14) The units in the first picture are also featured on HyBrid's Web site.

Posted by Dominic Holden | May 2, 2008 4:21 PM

Prefab can be be a very economical and scalable way to create housing. Since most of the work is done in a factory, tolerances and quality are better controlled, material waste is greatly cut, and strength is generally higher than structures built on-site. Mithun's design seems a little lacking, but that's based on a crappy Sketch-up rendering and a single unit mock-up meant to examine interior space, not the exterior. They can do whatever they want though- cut openings to make spaces higher or wider and connect units with elements built on-site.

Posted by cmaceachen | May 2, 2008 4:22 PM
Posted by David Sucher | May 2, 2008 4:57 PM
Posted by David Sucher | May 2, 2008 4:58 PM

What would a couple of these cost? I've got space in my back yard for these.

Posted by Lucky | May 2, 2008 5:23 PM

For really modular prefab, take a look at the Nakagin Capsule Tower, built in in Tokyo in 1972. Saw it on a TV show a few months back and it stuck with me.

Posted by crazycatguy's husband | May 2, 2008 5:24 PM

So stacking a bunch of single-wide mobile homes up into a rabbit hutch is supposed to be innovative? Why not just put them in a trailer park?

Posted by Y.F. | May 2, 2008 5:55 PM

@10, that's hilarious.

maybe the ratt song is a question, too.

Posted by infrequent | May 2, 2008 6:03 PM

you mention "the construction time decreases by three to six months—reducing the window of investment risk and adding months to collect rental fees"

um did you forget interest on the loans?
the owner/developer is paying hefty interest monthly from acquisition till sale or rental...that's why having more "community design review meetings" that drag the process out antoher six months or taking a year for permittng drives them crazy....if it takes a year to get permits on a $10 million project....that adds a year of interest ....that is $500K to a million dollars...all of which gets built into the cost of housing.

Cost of money dude. A/k/a the vig. Time is money. So that's the MAIN reason why reducing the time of construction is important.

Of coursse since we in Seattle love to o debate everythign till everyone is heard from then heard from again and again....on 520 the viaduct and light rail or anything ....there's little sense of time ....much less time baing valuable....

Posted by unPC | May 2, 2008 6:08 PM

habitat 67 was also prefab. pricetag was ginormous.

i'll say this again and again til i'm blue, single and doublewides are not the answer. this box, while it may be interesting, doesn't scale up well.

and mithun doesn't rock. just ask those in the know.

Posted by holz | May 2, 2008 9:37 PM

They had another big hit which was called "gatecrashing"

Posted by britpop guy | May 2, 2008 9:50 PM

I've always wanted to make a living space out of a shipping container. It would be an interesting challenge.

Posted by Greg | May 2, 2008 10:51 PM

I don't think the design is all THAT bad, but then I try to live pretty simply. "No more than what you need" has always struck me as a good motto.

Posted by Wolf | May 3, 2008 2:51 PM

Just comments seem to be disappearing.

Posted by Wolf | May 3, 2008 3:10 PM

OMG ... Seattle is broke.

It's come to this - we're living in trailers now ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 3, 2008 6:29 PM

The problem with this design is that they're not stacked 100 high surrounded by green space.

Posted by Donolectic | May 4, 2008 6:14 PM

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