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    Photos by Mickie Winters

    A few years ago, the only place you really saw cargo shipping containers in Louisville was when you got stuck at those ridiculously long train crossings on Oak Street or Crittenden Drive or Frankfort Avenue. But they’re having an architectural moment.

    The gift shop at the Copper & Kings brandy distillery in Butchertown, which opened two years ago, was the first visible sign of the city’s love affair with shipping containers repurposed as buildings. Since then, they’ve popped up at the ReSurfaced outdoor event venues (which do their own kind of repurposing of vacant lots, most recently in Phoenix Hill) and in the courtyard at Royals Hot Chicken in NuLu (see next page). Plans for the Schnitzelburg Container Homes, a condo development at the corner of Ash and Shelby streets made from 40-foot containers, are currently making it through metro government’s construction review process. There’s a plan in the works for a site in the Park Hill neighborhood called Opportunity Corner that involves using containers for office and retail space, as well as an employment resource center.

     

    One firm, Core Design, has done or will do fabrication on all these projects. Owner Jeremy Semones, who’s a self-taught welder, former construction worker and former sous chef, was surprised by the idea when he got a call from Copper & Kings. “It was a lot more than a two-container garage,” he says. At that point, he’d done two garages for residential clients in Germantown and the Highlands.

    Semones says the concept often puzzles people. “They’re like big Legos,” he says. “It’s a lot easier than people make it out to be.” There are Lego-sized models of shipping containers on a table in his West Main Street shop. It’s hard not to pick them up and start playing around with configurations.

    The trend isn’t unique to Louisville, and it’s not really new. LOT-EK, a New York-based architecture firm, was experimenting with container dwellings in the early 2000s. In 2005, a developer in Amsterdam built a huge student-housing complex entirely of containers. Brooklyn, Toronto and Las Vegas are home to open-air marketplaces where vendors set up shop in containers. The developers behind the Schnitzelburg Container Homes and the owner of Copper & Kings have cited a bar built from containers in Austin, Texas, as a source of inspiration.

    Copper & Kings co-owner Joe Heron credits a sense of environmentalism as one of the forces behind the trend. (After a container hauls cargo a long distance, it might just sit there.) Semones, who’s procured about 50 containers from shipping companies, says it’s cheaper for companies to continue making new containers than ship empty ones back. Containers also get decommissioned after so many years in use, at which point they get sold. They’re made from COR-TEN, a type of weathering steel with a high nickel content. It develops a coating of fine-textured rust that protects the base metal, which makes the containers ideal for staying sturdy out in the elements. “They have this sense of drama, driven out of functionality, that’s quite exciting,” Heron says.

    Mark Foxworth, the architect for the Schnitzelburg Container Homes project, says, “I thought it was going to be met with a lot of skepticism, like, ‘Oh, here we go with this trendy project.’ But it resonates with a lot of people.” Semones says he’s gotten tons of inquiries about working on residential projects. (One misconception he and Foxworth encounter: Building a container home is cheap. It’s not. After creature comforts like insulation, plumbing and electrical systems are installed, the cost per square foot is comparable to a normal house.)

    In the future, look for more shipping containers in the city’s restaurant scene. Semones, for one, is working with a local restaurateur on an idea for mobile kitchens.

    This originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. To find you very own copy of Louisville Magazine, click here. 

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    About Amy Talbott

    Piscean. INFJ. Cat person. Runner. Mediocre housekeeper. Excellent cook. Scours the sleaze on Craigslist so you don't have to.

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