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Shipping container design comes to Minneapolis neighborhood.
New York-based LOT-EK has made a career of using the ubiquitous steel modules to create architecture, here in an office function.
Courtesy LOT-EK

Minneapolis’ North Loop neighborhood was once known for dusty warehouses, vacant lots and railroad tracks. Now it is a hub for nightlife, surrounded by new condos and anchored by Target Field—home to the Minnesota Twins.

In a fitting union of past and present, shipping container–loving architecture studio LOT-EK is making its Twin Cities debut in the former industrial neighborhood. The New York–based design team is working with local firm Snow Kreilich Architects to up-cycle shipping containers into a 16,500-square-foot commercial building. Approximately 60 identical 40-foot containers, all sourced locally, comprise the mixed-use building. “The container is possibly the most global, and the most local object that we manufacture. It’s a universal system. They’re the same containers all over the planet,” said LOT-EK’s Giuseppe Lignano.


The Minneapolis building will be the firm’s first to enclose an outdoor lobby area within a 100-by-100-foot rhomboidal “donut” shape. Restaurants, cafés, and retail will occupy the first floor of the building, while offices for the digital marketing firm The Neat Pig Group will take up the top three levels. They will share that space with a smaller suite of small-business incubators.

That rhomboidal shape is split structurally, with one triangular half resting on an existing underground parking garage, reducing the need for additional foundation on the wetland site. The other triangular half is lifted one level.

LOT-EK's Twin Cities debut is the firm's first shipping container design with an enclosed courtyard.

The site at 5th Avenue North and 3rd Street North has been vacant for decades. Lignano said the new building furthers the neighborhood’s transformation while honoring its industrial past. “And also the building becomes like a beacon,” he said, “a new idea, a progressive building that could become a little bit of a hub.”

LOT-EK’s previous work includes a makeover of New York’s Pier 57 in West Chelsea; Puma City—a portable, mixed-use structure in Boston; and a barge-borne exhibition space for Google in the San Francisco Bay. All those projects use shipping containers as their basic structural elements.

Robert Silman Associates, Solution Blue, and Ericksen Roed Associates are providing engineering services to the project, which is currently working its way through the Minneapolis public review process. Opening is expected in early 2015.

Chris Bentley