An Open Letter from CEO, David Campbell
May 24, 2017
When you’re part of a burgeoning industry, you always want to hear stories of success and celebration. An article was published early last week, highlighting another company and their latest restaurant project in Long Island, NY. While Boxman Studios supports all professionals in the industry, this article contained some misleading statements that aren’t indicative of the industry’s practices as a whole. In an effort to educate the public about our industry and what they should expect from their container modification projects, we would like to address two quotes from the article that directly speak to some common misconceptions about building with shipping containers.
In this first excerpt, it accurately outlines important structural elements that are absolutely imperative for the safety of construction workers, tenants, and customers when operating out of a shipping container. While fundamentally correct, the article is missing the necessary context for readers to understand why a project might become difficult and expensive.
“Containers must be cut when stacked to widen the living space or create windows and doors and need to be insulated from the inside and reinforced with steel beams in multistory structures. And after they are put together, conversions or expansions are difficult and expensive.”
Historically, municipalities had less input into the codes and regulations surrounding container structures. But, as the industry continues to grow, there must be guidelines about the correct way to build these structures for the well-being of anyone who occupies them. So, yes; building with containers is initially more expensive than it was in the past, and can be more expensive than traditional construction. Fortunately, when designed, planned, and built correctly, expansions and conversions can offer much more value in total cost of ownership. The methods and processes by which it is safe, affordable, and reasonable to utilize shipping containers as building materials is still in its infancy. So, the discovery process can have hurdles and setbacks, as with any new or innovative industry shift.
Anyone who is interested in using kinetic architecture should know that the right vendor will have a good feel for all of these important considerations, and be completely transparent with clients about what they are before signing a contract or cutting a check. Good vendors (not just in our industry) will be sensitive to their client’s inexperience. They’ll guide clients through the challenges and support them where they need it. If it doesn’t seem like a vendor cares, please consider what that means for anyone that will occupy the space.
Later, the article discusses major issues in the way some vendors sell and produce container projects, and a few misconceptions about the cost associated with these builds.
“Industry executives say building with containers can be 40% faster and 20% cheaper than using traditional building materials, though [company] ultimately payed double what it budgeted for the [city] restaurant. The project cost about $2 million and took four years from conception to completion, with builders struggling to work with the dented metal and inspectors conducting extensive reviews before approving the construction.“
The industry executives are correct, using shipping containers means we can complete projects much faster than traditional construction. The manufacturing process allows for structural, engineering, MEP and finishes to be worked-on, installed, and constructed in overlapping time periods. The process is often compared to manufacturing modular buildings.
Another major misunderstanding about building with shipping containers is that they offer a significant reduction in cost. Containerized structures can offer value in a wide array of applications for many industries, but you will not pay 20% less for a container project over a comparable stick-and-brick building. If you are scratching your head thinking, “My container project was so cheap, looked beautiful and arrived in perfect condition,” then you are an exception, not the rule. If you’re scratching your head thinking, “I’m looking at a quote for containers that is significantly cheaper than a stick building,” prepare yourself for unexpected, extensive, and expensive change-orders. In our experience, the low-cost option doesn’t stay a low-cost option.
It’s surprising to hear that dented metal stumped their team. First, because the technique is ‘Shipping Container Modification 101.’ Second, because there are many options other than using retired, damaged containers. The time and labor associated with removing dents and imperfections in their containers could have been put to better use through purpose-building a structure or utilizing a one-trip container that would be in better condition.
The final challenge with this article is the vendor’s reasoning for doubling their clients budget and justification for their timeline. Modular certification, inspections, and health codes are a part of every single shipping container restaurant project. They keep everyone safe. Shipping containers are not intended to be occupied spaces, and making them safe for the public should be a difficult and stringent process. Inspections are a part of that process, not a hidden charge. Experts will know how to design structures so they satisfy the appropriate regulations, and they’ll build accordingly; the first time.
You want to work with vendors that will give you accurate estimates or set expectations for potential change orders before they happen. If you have a limited budget (as most people do) work with a company who will help you design a solution and recommend materials that realistically fit into your budget and timeline.
I would like to leave you with these final thoughts. Boxman Studios will not be the right vendor for every project, and that’s okay. As experts, we hold ourselves accountable to our industry and want to ensure that the correct information is being distributed. This is what we believe in and have seen successfully implemented across a variety of industries and applications.