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Creativity Cubed

Creativity Cubed

A collaborative triad between RISD, Brown University and a team of RISD alumni has designers and architects thinking outside the box.

A collaborative triad between RISD, Brown University and a team of RISD alumni has designers and architects thinking outside the box. Or, in this case, redesigning the box entirely.

The three partners have teamed up to design and potentially commercialize an off-the-grid, sustainable and energy-efficient home built from creatively repurposed shipping containers. At an event held last week at RISD,RI Senator Jack Reed announced that the Partnership for Sustainable Development had been awarded a $150,000 federal grant from the Small Business Administration to further develop the idea and explore its potential. Reed lauded the project as “elegant and cost-effective” and noted that the collaboration has strong potential not only to create jobs, but also to respond to long-term housing needs and provide disaster assistance around the globe.

The idea for using shipping containers is the brainchild of Providence-area architects and RISD alumniPeter Gill Case MArch 97/Brown 83 and Joe Haskett MArch 02. The two have already achieved local notoriety for The Box Office, a colorful and vibrant office complex that uses 32 recycled containers as building blocks. Developed as a response to the economic downturn, the project was conceived as a building that could thrive under uncertain economic conditions and has already established itself as a model for energy efficiency and creative collaborations. Haskett and Gill Case’s plan to extend the containers’ use into affordable housing was selected as a pilot for new ‘green’ business models in Rhode Island from a field of over 50 applicants.

As a result, this spring RISD students from Interior Architecture, Architecture and Industrial Design are developing design plans and researching their viability as part of a RISD course calledRe-BOX. They will then team up with the Rhode Island Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship [RI-CIE] at Brown University to explore how to bring them to market.

Taught by RISD professors Markus Berger and Peter Dean, the advanced interdisciplinary design studio aims to teach design, business and sustainability simultaneously, says Dean. “Beyond the idea of adaptive reuse, the class re-investigates mobility, fabrication, energy and green design,” notes Berger. Students in the class are developing 16 practical, affordable and sustainable uses for the containers including art galleries, urban farms, community centers and even emergency disaster shelters that can be quickly put in place in crisis situations.

By linking the design process with economic and sustainability issues, the studio’s final presentations will integrate business and marketing plans with energy and sustainability schemes, as well as architectural drawings and models. Gill Case and Haskett are serving as critics throughout the process.

Beyond their collaboration with RISD and Brown through the Partnership for Sustainable Development, the two alumni are continuing to explore further uses for shipping containers as modular buildings through their new company UbiGO. “There are thousands of empty shipping containers piling up in US ports,” says Gill Case, explaining that the containers allow the firm to promote green building principles and offer high quality design at affordable prices. “These modules can be manufactured locally and shipped globally,” he points out – which means that these innovative designs will both stimulate the local economyand help solve housing crises around the globe.