Text from The MIM Talks @ COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, October 2014

.... Our next project is an off-the-grid waterfront structure in Brooklyn. This particular client did all the initial work and just hired me to make his dreams real. He already leased a few spots in a parking lot by then, and tracked a few salvaged shipping containers, at $600 each.


Our needs were to have a work and storage space over 1,500 sf that would give us enough privacy and comfort. What we calculated is, the monthly rent for the parking lot that is required for building s1,500 sf of space in two stories, is less than a half of the monthly rent for the same amount of space in an existing building in Brooklyn. We made our cost feasibility studies. We realized that we can actually save a lot from the monthly rent cost and return the investment within three years, and begin to save a few thousand every month after then.


The challenge was the conditions of the parking lot. It was a temporary location, leased only for 5 years. It was located on a land fill, there was no water supply, no sewer system, no gas, and no electric. Even the internet providers did not offer any service in the area. And of course, the biggest challenge was to build a structure for less than $100 per sf.


We began with the temporary location issue. We developed the details for a container structure, that we can easily take a part and move to another location. All five containers are connected with nuts and bolts, providing a tight seal at the joints. The cost of the relocating the structure will be around 30k, which is not a big number, if you consider that we are planning to move the entire 2-storey building.


We insulated the walls from inside, for keeping the raw container look. And we applied a high-tech paint, which is developed for Nasa, to deal with the overheating problems of the space shuttle, but available today for the retail. We also designed a low-cost green roof, for insulating the ceilings and having some wild green elements to balance the industrial look.


We installed wood-pellet heaters, which does not produce black smoke. Wood-pellets have 5 times more efficient than the natural wood, look like breakfast-cereal, and made of compacted wood-dust left over the wood industry. And the cost of the pellets per day is less than $4.


In NY state, average rainfall is around 2 gallons per sf, per month. So, we collect enough water for our use, from our 1,000 sf of roof surface. We transfer the water to our collection tanks, pass thru the filter system and ozone generators, and pump it to our system. We also connected the condensation tubes coming out of the air conditioners to the water tanks. Air conditioners in the humid areas such as the brooklyn waterfront, can produce up to couple gallons in a single summer day.


So, since there is no water or sewer lines available for the lot, we installed a compost toilet, which eliminates the 90% of the human waste, liquid or solid, and produces a good quality compost with the remaining 10% waste. Which works great for the flora around our containers. We even get some sunflowers grow out of our compost. Today's compost toilets are equipped with ventilators and odor eliminators to provide a fresh service.


We investigated that we would not able to afford the high cost of getting a new power line from the Con Edison, which requires under-sidewalk lines and installing new electric poles. So, we planned to use electric generators for our power needs in the structure. But the fuel logistics and the engine noise was not appealing. Luckily, we located an outlet, at the other corner of the lot, belong to our landlord. And we plug our system to his outlet with an extension cord, and eventually installed a sub-meter to pay our share.


When it comes to space planning, we placed top floor in an angle, to take advantage of the sun direction and the river views. The shutters for the windows are the actual pieces cut out for the window openings. Both shutters upstairs can control the sun light precisely and provides the privacy as needed. We designed this hardware, which slides the metal shutter to the side with manual power.