Workers watch as a shipping container is lowered onto its foundations at 3307 7th Street NE, Washington, D.C.
Deane Madsen Workers watch as a shipping container is lowered onto its foundations at 3307 7th Street NE, Washington, D.C.

Construction began this week on Washington, D.C.’s first residential complex made out of shipping containers. The project, designed by local architect Travis Price III, FAIA, and his eponymous firm, will convert a single-family house into an apartment building intended for 24 occupants in the Brookland neighborhood.

The four-unit residence will accommodate recent graduates of the Catholic University of America (CUA), where Price teaches as an adjunct professor in the architecture and planning department and serves as director of the graduate concentration Cultures and Sacred Spaces.

The city issued a building permit to the Brookland Equity Group on July 11 for the project, called SeaUA—a play on the university’s initials, CUA.

Travis Price Architects
Deane Madsen

The building consists of four levels, with each floor serving as an apartment with six bedrooms, six full bathrooms, and a shared common area including a kitchen, dining area, living room, and laundry room.

The structure will replace a single-family house owned by CUA alumni Matthew Grace and Sean Joiner of Brookland Equity Group, who chose demolition over renovation of the aging structure that they bought in 2009. The house has suffered from issues with the foundation and cracked walls. Only the basement and first four feet of the walls of the existing home were preserved—the additional three above-grade levels will be formed out of shipping containers.

The three key elements of the project, as stated by Travis Price Architects in a release, include ecological, housing, and design goals.

The firm reports that there are over 700,000 unused sea containers in the U.S. alone, meaning that “reuse is not only an ecological necessity, but one that will be putting the U.S. construction industry back to work locally.”

The project also addresses the region’s growing affordable housing concerns by “advancing emerging housing for growing Millenials” without government incentives, the release says. The firm reports that nearly all of the units are leased for expected occupancy in the fall of this year.

The firm plans for SeaUA to demonstrate to the city what it calls “a highly efficient, humanely warm, and modern lower cost housing option.”

Travis Price Architects reports that a second similar project is under consideration nearby.