Credit: Courtesy Steven C. Flum, Inc.

Ninety-three retired shipping containers in the Motor City will get new cargo this year—human beings.

Exceptional Green Living on Rosa Parks in metro Detroit will be a 20-unit condo complex built from empty shipping containers stacked four-high atop each other.

First proposed in 2008 by Detroit developer Three Squared, development on the project stalled following the national real estate crash. However, according to Leslie Horn, CEO of Three Squared, the $3.4-million project is back on track for a 2013 construction start, and a model unit and sales center will break ground in mid-December on Michigan Ave., west of downtown. 

The 26,000 square foot structure will feature units ranging in size from 850- to 1,920- square feet, which will sell for about 5 percent less than condos of a comparable size. Owners will also be able to drive down energy costs by up to 80 percent, due to energy-saving features like tankless water heaters and ductless heating and air systems.

Designed by Detroit-based architect Steven Flum, the project on a lot near Wayne University is a rarity in America. In Europe however, shipping containers have been used extensively to create housing and office spaces. Backers of these types of projects say they are a great way to recycle empty containers in port cities worldwide; many shippers find them too expensive to send back to their ports of origin.

The condominium complex is being viewed as a prototype for future possible shipping container projects, as some investors are wary about investing until they can see the versatility and energy-saving capabilities of container construction for themselves.

Horn believes that the project is “just the beginning of the capacity of [Three Squared],” as success with the complex could lead to future projects with shipping containers that will answer the call for student or emergency housing, temporary construction offices, and infill houses in urban neighborhoods.