After their heyday as storage facilities had passed, the warehouse lofts of SoHo sat largely unused in the 1970s, until groups of artists and creatives realized their potential. Here was all this huge, empty space sitting in the middle of downtown Manhattan, and all you needed was a crowbar to get in.
Similarly, the ports of Los Angeles are currently filled with unused shipping containers, victims of the global downturn, stacked empty in parking lots and taking up space.
Architect Peter DeMaria, principal of DeMaria Design, sees something similar to what the SoHo pioneers saw: Raw spatial material. Shipping containers are already fireproof, space-defined, resistant to the elements and sturdy enough to be stacked atop one another. To that end he has incorporated shipping containers into the design of the cash-strapped East L.A. Four Square Church Parsonage's new building (which was awarded a 2009 American Institute of Architects Design Award):
Budget constraints and design concepts led to the creation of a "hybrid" construction system - a combination of innovative and traditional technologies - that employs recycled ISO Shipping Containers commonly found in every port around the globe, as the primary building block for the building. The containers once destined to wither away, as they do abandoned and in disrepair only blocks away from the project site, are given a new chance at life. Redeployed as a super strong, fireproof, mold resistant and affordable structural system, the containers become a powerful metaphor for parishioners seeking a new beginning.
Fully exposed, the steel corrugated containers serve as the primary enclosure/space for classrooms on the second level along with a Pastor's living unit and a Teen Drop-In Center. The ground floor Gathering Hall is a communal space that hosts wedding receptions, cultural events, educational presentations and various religious celebrations. This space opens to an outdoor Plaza and the original Church to the east and also opens to the Children's Sunken Garden, surrounded in bamboo, to the south.
Built to structural standards that exceed conventional wood and steel frame buildings, Peter DeMaria has been developing this cargo container based building system over the past six years.
"The fundamental solutions to our expensive construction cost challenges already exist. We need to look more closely at materials and systems from other industries and explore how they might be modified and/or adapted to meet our construction and architecture needs. Our mission is to develop design processes that leverage existing fabrication systems - these systems have liberated a design palette of innovation for us.
...It is incumbent upon us: 1) to create buildings that amplify environmentally conscious sensibilities, and 2) to employ progressive design as a catalyst to improve business and living conditions.
Next month DeMaria will be sharing the process with the public through the soon-to-open L.A. gallery FIX - Center for Design + Innovation.