An Interview With the Architect of DC's Shipping Container Apartments

  • October 30th 2014

by UrbanTurf Staff

An Interview With the Architect of DC's Shipping Container Apartments: Figure 1
Travis Price’s Rock Creek Park home.

DC-based Travis Price recently made headlines for being the architect behind the shipping container apartments that popped up in northeast DC last month. But the architect has long had an outside-the-box philosophy when it comes to architectural design, and in DC, that started in Forest Hills where the homes he designed, including his own, stand out among the neighborhood’s brick colonials. UrbanTurf recently chatted with the poetic Price about the state of DC architecture, the trend of super-small living and this idea he has for floating homes on the Potomac.

UrbanTurf: The talk of the DC residential real estate world over the last month has been the shipping container apartments that you designed. Shipping containers, tiny houses, micro-units — is the trend of hypersmall living a fad or does it have legs?

Travis Price: I think smaller housing has had traction for some time and is the new modern reality. Affordability is of course the key driver as well as an increasing hunger for modern hip living. So far the smaller dwelling movement has been rental only. However, I am certain the next wave coming upon us very fast will be “ownership“ financing packages for smaller dwellings.

The cultural shift to small hip modern aesthetic is the real revolution. Just as we have adjusted happily to the world’s largest furniture company, IKEA, so too we are already culturally in love with steel, glass, plywood, and open modern vistas. The repurposing of containers makes all this much more affordable. It’s most definitely a growing mainstay, not a fad nor a fancy.

An Interview With the Architect of DC's Shipping Container Apartments: Figure 2
A home Price designed in West Virginia.

UrbanTurf: A common criticism of new construction in DC in recent years is that it is boxy and boring. What do you think needs to be done to bring more exciting architecture to DC’s multi-family projects?

Travis Price: A dull building needs some odd characteristic that tells us something. I think anomalies and oddities that are locally reflective need to be encouraged. Something more interesting than just a pool roof bar needs encouragement from zoning reviewers. For instance, more zoning allowances for extending buildings out and up in odd ways with something more than bays and balconies. Allow trees to grow off balconies out into the street as is done in Austria. Perhaps exceptions in location and variety to penthouse access on the roof can be added if there is genuine flair and dare. Instead of a Fine Arts Commission, we could implement a Fun Arts Commission for buildings. Aspen Colorado for years has been using the “beauty contest” approach. Rather than a prescription, it allows anomalies that introduce interest in lieu of limited banality and the developer gets more square footage for being daring. Instead of discouraging dreaming, start to encourage it in the regulations. Dare government to dare!

UrbanTurf: What are the new residential projects on the boards for DC that you are most excited about from a design perspective?

Travis Price: Some of the work that EastBanc and JBG are doing, as well as the Qatari funded projects, are really invigorating the city. I am especially awestruck by the new City Center waterfalls and digital walls. The small detailed area by Norm Foster with Shalom Baranes makes the whole place come alive. I could sit there all day as a digital monk and sketch while the water tickles my ears and feet. More serendipity has really increased in DC and attention to space is revving up.

An Interview With the Architect of DC's Shipping Container Apartments: Figure 3
The exterior of the shipping container apartments.

UrbanTurf: Outside of your own Forest Hills, what DC neighborhoods do you think have. or will have, exciting residential architecture?

Travis Price: There is no doubt a lot of fun is continuing along the 14th Street Corridor, the Brookland area, and the 6th Street swing. Some awesome singular pieces are popping up along MacArthur Boulevard as well. The riverfront might be a lovely blossom to keep our eyes on, but so far nothing to hit the brakes and stop the car for yet. Douglas Jemal’s remaking of the Hecht building on New York Avenue and its surroundings, along with the Union Market area are worth exploring. Two million square feet of sassy New York are sprouting out there.

UrbanTurf: What residential project that you are currently working on in DC are you most excited about and why?

Travis Price: We’re very excited about more sea container projects which a number of developers are approaching us about. We are working on a traditional house that is being blown apart by modernist interventions and then completely wrapped in perforated stainless steel glistening with subtle delights and shades of natural nuance. A number of small very powerful glass renovations in Georgetown are nearing completion and their thin elegance is setting a sublime modernism for the neighborhood.

An Interview With the Architect of DC's Shipping Container Apartments: Figure 4
One of the renovations in Georgetown, currently in progress.

UrbanTurf: You have said that you are working on a similar project to the shipping container apartments, and have even talked about designing a group of floating homes on the Potomac. Can you elaborate?

Travis Price: We haven’t gotten full traction on the floating homes just yet. It’s a matter of getting the Army Corp of Engineers on board, a developer with land/water access, and of course the daring to make it so. I really think that parks are the last thing we need on the riverfronts as “pretty” as they might seem at first. I simply love seeing living on the water vis a vis New York, Vancouver, San Francisco, Florence, Venice, Amsterdam, London and Dublin. DC could protect its ecology so much better this way by having more people, not less, at the water edge all day and night. I think it would be grand to see large barges with colorful well lit metal, glass homes floating with very artful bridges and people milling about.

UrbanTurf: What city in the world has your favorite architecture?

Travis Price: Barcelona. Gaudi was as close to God as it gets, and getting closer by the century as the Sagrada Familia continues to aspire and inspire.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/one_on_one_shipping_container_apartment_designer_travis_price/9158.

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