At Fort Bragg, N.C., a partnership of three St. Louis-based firms teamed up to create a low-cost solution to the U.S. Army’s needs using sea containers that are 8-feet (2.4-m) wide, 40-feet (12-m) long and 9-feet (2.7-m) high. Because these blocks are structurally reinforced to accommodate the strains of long transit, they are ideal for creating the structural support required for a building. The buildings can be assembled quickly, are adaptable and can be delivered at the same or lower cost than more traditional construction assemblies.

OFFICERS BUILDING, FORT BRAGG, N.C. Architect > The Lawrence Group, St. Louis, Mo., / Contractor > Alberici Constructors Inc., St. Louis,
SG Blocks, St. Louis OFFICERS BUILDING, FORT BRAGG, N.C. Architect > The Lawrence Group, St. Louis, Mo., / Contractor > Alberici Constructors Inc., St. Louis,

When stacked together, the shipping containers can create a fast, flexible, durable shell. They contain high percentages of recycled content, are themselves completely recyclable and can be used again at the end of their newfound use.

The new Officers Building at Ft. Bragg was an excellent location to demonstrate the versatility of this building concept. The Army wanted a durable structure that could be built quickly and taken down just as quickly.

Twelve containers form this 2-story, 4,500square-foot (418-m2) office building. Six of the 12 containers were secured to a concrete-masonry-unit block foundation. The remaining six containers were stacked and secured on top of the lower level, creating the second floor. The reinforced hull of the containers allows for penetrations in the interior and exterior walls to create openings for doors, utilities, stairs and windows.

Welded assemblies connect each container, resulting in a structure that is stronger and assembles faster than conventional stud-frame construction. Once the base structure is complete, the roof, windows and façade can be installed using more conventional building techniques.

Recycled shipping containers > SG Blocks, St. Louis,
SG Blocks, St. Louis Recycled shipping containers > SG Blocks, St. Louis,

A 5:12 (23-degree) roof was constructed using a standard wood truss and sheathing combination. Military construction standards dictate blast-resistant laminate glass for the 18 exterior windows. The building façade is a 3-foot (0.9-m) brick veneer wainscot with EIFS on the remainder of the building.

The interior finishes are comparable to a standard military base office complex. Interior walls are drywall over metal stud with a painted finish. The sub-floor had to be covered and leveled with a gypsum-concrete topping before the floor covering could be installed. The flooring is a combination of vinyl tile and carpet. The 8-foot (2.4-m) ceilings are 2- by 2-foot (0.6- by 0.6-m) lay-in acoustical ceiling tile. Standard fluorescent light fixtures were used for lighting. The building is zone controlled and cooled by two 4-ton (3.6-metric ton) heat-pump units.

In 75 days, the contractor had completed all construction activities and the office complex was ready for use. The building no longer looks like stacked sea containers but takes on the appearance of a traditionally constructed building.

> > THOMAS TAYLOR is general manager of St. Louis-based Vertegy, a sustainable consultancy firm. He can be reached at or (314) 733-2666.