Q+A with Travis Price of Travis Price Architects

District Home takes an inside look into the use of shipping containers to revitalize urban life with warmer, sophisticated modernism that is both durable and sustainable.

District Home Magazine: What tends to be the most appealing feature about your custom container homes to prospective clients?
Travis Price:
Modernism with its spatial freedom, large views in touch with nature and urban life, very warm wood interiors that feed our natural hunger, and an honest use of real containers as an aesthetic; no phony historic cartoons like a Tuscany house in a rainy Seattle.

DHM: What are some of the challenges you face with shipping container homes?
The main challenge was not technical, not codes, nor financing. It was largely a lack of education about the advances of modernism in the past 2 decades. Most people are now overcoming the initial “sterile–slick ” modernist image of modern and embracing a warmer, natural, and more sophisticated idea that modern has many faces including glass, wood, and functional exposed metal. This is a big cultural shift in millennials and ironically many retiring purchasers.

DHM: How have you overcome this lack of education and what are the main takeaways?
Inspired and reasonably easy to build design compositions that make the ordinariness of corrugated metal, plywood, and large industrial glass feel more like a sublimely exciting iPhone than a sterile lost box. The ecological message is met with re-purposed fallow sea containers and more importantly great natural materials are preserved inside with the feelings of nature close to the touch. People are looking for the honesty of authenticity of the times with the container as home. Yes they will cost less and that is a great advantage as well as the speed of construction. Further, they are even more durable and a much better value for life than standard stick construction. Whether they will sell for less will be a market issue, but the bang for the buck is without a doubt a great asset.

DHM: You have been contemplating floating sea container apartments and a homeless village on the river to serve Georgetown. What do you envision in a project of this sort?
Besides a larger on-land village of containers in the city, we would like to float the same 200 units on elegant barges and create mixed-use containers on the riverfronts. This is done in Holland and would be an updated and sophisticated Sausalito inspiration. The best part is that it would create what most Washingtonians would love most; urban life on the water. This is the future of cities. The US has an abundance of natural rivers and parks. Cities really don’t need to keep their River Fronts completely pristine. Bruges in Belgium, Florence, and Venice, Italy are all echoes of a richer history of life on the water in a dense environment. This is not only loveable but also more valuable. Think of the vast amount of money spent each year to visit such places as well as the huge investment in metal and glass condominiums and you suddenly realize the containers are simply an evolution of using less materials and human technical genius to provide more with less. The river ecology is far better preserved with responsible living than open parks that are costly and hard to maintain. Good ecology comes when a person has to eat and sleep where they live!

DHM: What do you see in the future for container housing?
The re-purposing of containers is a growing and a long-term market. The genius of mass-produced space that endures the roughest seas will diminish one day as they are all used up. Further if we start to ship them out with American products, this would be great for us. However, the ideas will live on and actually become a housing production model that works as a new aesthetic. Twenty years ago, IKEA was a fresh odd start. Now it is the largest manufacturer of furniture in the world and a widely embraced aesthetic much like those weird metal machines we worship more than houses, cars and iPads! Pre fabrication and mass customization are continuing by necessity and more importantly, they have become the romantic vision of the 21st century. Much like the smart phone appendage we all enjoy, these innovations will become the expected and enjoyed norm. The tipping point is here. It is not a technical revolution as most of the components are not new, it’s a cultural evolution!