While traveling in Europe, Glen Donaldson saw houses crafted from old shipping containers and was intrigued. But back home in Atlanta—where rail lines carry more than a million boxcars a year—he couldn’t find anything similar. So Donaldson located an affordable lot in an area where zoning permitted modern houses, secured an architect, and designed his dream home. The easiest task turned out to be obtaining the six containers that would be assembled to create a three-story townhome with a drive-under garage. “Because it’s such a transportation hub, there are several places to find containers around Atlanta,” says Donaldson, who acquired his from a reseller in Jonesboro. (Used containers run from $2,000 to $20,000 based on size and condition.)
His Old Fourth Ward lot required a tall, narrow structure. “If it had been built conventionally, there would have been all kinds of reinforcement needed,” he says. “The containers’ steel structure is beneficial.” Donaldson built his three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home in 2007 and a second house a few years ago.
What do the neighbors think of the townhomes, which are somewhat reminiscent of Lego bricks? “People sometimes walk by and say they are cool, but no one has said anything bad—at least not to my face,” says Donaldson. Of course, when he first moved in, the area was not the buzzy hive of nightlife and development it is now. Donaldson’s houses are just a few blocks from the massive Hulsey Yard, where containers are loaded onto and off of CSX freight trains around the clock. “I can’t see the CSX yard from my house—but I sure can hear it,” he says.
‣ Donaldson used “high-cube” containers, which, at nine and a half feet tall, make for higher-ceilinged rooms than standard eight-and-a-half-foot containers.
‣ Each house required six containers, stacked two wide and three high. The containers measure eight feet by forty feet. “The rooms are spacious,” says Donaldson. “But there are a lot of stairs.”
‣ The second duplex, on the market for $459,000 earlier this year, has since been signed for a long-term lease.
‣ Donaldson’s first house occupies a lot just twenty-seven feet wide and eighty feet deep. The second lot is also eighty feet deep, but narrows from thirty feet at the front to just seventeen at the rear.
‣ Since the containers had to be cut to allow for access between floors and to create windows and doors, the assembled construction is reinforced with posts and steel beams.
This article originally appeared in our July 2014 issue under the headline "Ship-Shape."