March 1, 2010 – When we started planning the Creative Co-Op project, we knew we wanted a building that was unique in style yet structurally sound. Our plan has always been to use upcycled, recycled, and sustainable materials where possible. This made economic sense, but it also appealed to creative nature. Just go to a weekend crafts fair and you will be amazed how an artisan can take something destined for the junk yard and turn it into a work of art that is truly beautiful. So, before we got too deep into the project, I decided that we needed to have an architect involved from the conceptual stages through construction, completion and occupancy.
Not having used the services of an architect before, I was not sure what to do. I turned to my friend Professor Tom Diehl in the School of Architecture at the University of Houston to ask his advice. Tom knew about epic because in 2006, he had one of his upper level classes visit our studio, walk the property, and create concepts for the best ideas for developing the land. The results from his students were nothing short of spectacular. We used one of the concepts from a student to buy a used cargo container and convert it into a retail store.
So I asked Tom if he had any recent graduates in mind, he said he would check and get back to me. In the interim, Tom mentioned that the school had an installation that included a converted shipping container. He said that the cargo container conversion known as SPACE had been designed by the students of visiting Assistant Professor, Andrew Vrana.
I decided to do something that has worked very well for me in the past; I ran a free Craigslist ad looking for architects who might be interested in the project. I was amazed by the response.We had a total of 15 architects reply, some from as far away as Denver, CO and San Francisco, CA. Several had firsthand experience with cargo containers that had been converted for use as living quarters (in Iraq) or as command centers (on barges and oilfield workboats). I wanted to find a firm that would understand the potential of this project. A firm who would point to the building as a signature project of their company.
There was no shortage of qualified architects that wanted to work on the building. The problem I had now was how to select the best one, and also one who we would be able to work with. I started with a combination of telephone and email interviews and was able to whittle the list down to three firms. I met with the principals at each one. All were willing to work with me on the cost (to say things were slow in commercial architecture in the fall of 2009, would be a bit of an understatement). It really came down to chemistry. The firm I selected was Shapespace, and it turns out, the principals at the company were past students of Andrew Vrana. They also agreed to meet with Mr. Vrana to discuss the project and get his opinion of our plans. Shapespace was also a fan of building with non-conventional materials, and a building made of shipping containers was right up their ally.
The Principals at Shapespace are Jasleen Sarai and Preetal Shah. Their first trip to our studio was in late September, 2009. We had developed our initial plans for the building using Google’s Sketchup, an incredibly powerful 3D development tool available from Google (and it is free). They immediately pointed out a number of ways we could make the building more efficient and effective, by simply shifting the configuration of the containers. They came back to the office on several occasions, to meet with our anchor tenant (Silver Rock Productions) to insure their design concepts met the needs of the client. Over the next five months, we worked in an evolutionary process changing the design until we were satisfied that the design would work. All along the way, they provided me with web links and articles on other container projects. Jasleen is a LEED accredited professional and one of our goals is to try to get LEED certification for the new studio.
Today, Shapespace delivered the first set of Architectural floor plans for our review and comments. They were awesome! We asked our engineer, Ron Saikowski, to come in to look at them as well. We also asked Wally Westbrook, President of Westbrook Designs, who specializes in doing construction drawings to come by for the meeting. Wally will take the CAD files created by Shapespace and create the MEP (Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing) drawings for us. The MEP drawings are more detailed and will be used by our contractor to build the structure. MEP stands for Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing. Combined with the architectural drawings provided by ShapeSpace all drawings will be reviewed by our engineer, and then submitted to a variety of state and government agencies to insure they meet all current building and safety codes.
If you would like to see some of the Shapespace Architectural floor plans, you will find them here:
Creative Co-Op – First Floor
Creative Co-op – Second Floor
Creative Co-Op – Site Plan
If you would like to see the Sketchup version of the Creative Co-Op, you will need to download the Sketchup viewer , then download the Sketchup File of the Creative Co-Op. (16mb)
Posted by Vic Cherubini on March 02, 2010
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