The Tallest Shipping Container Building in the U.S. is in Downtown Phoenix
Local Studio’s IDA on McKinley was designed with sustainability in mind.
By Sara Crocker | Photography by Grey Shed Studio
With each new building, “we try to elevate the container,” says Local Studio architect and owner Brian Stark. In the case of the recently opened IDA on McKinley, it’s literal: At six stories, it is the tallest shipping container building in the country, but its display of sustainable living is what Stark hopes puts downtown Phoenix’s latest cargotecture project on the map.
“Doing this in an environment like the Sonoran Desert is a good way to prove something,” Stark says. “The hope is we can act responsibly, demonstrate it and hope that other people start doing the same thing.”
IDA, located at 3rd and McKinley streets—and named for President William McKinley’s wife—is built on a former 22-car parking lot. The small footprint meant building up. Sixty-four shipping containers, each measuring 40 feet long by 9-and-a-half feet tall, are stacked five high. The development has 18 one- and two-bedroom units, currently being leased for short-term stays. The interiors are modern, with ample natural light from floor-to-ceiling and picture-frame windows. With a warehouse feel, the floors—epoxied to highlight the plywood base of each container—show the history etched into them. “It gives some realness and authenticity,” Stark says.
“There is a uniqueness and novelty to the containers.”
—Brian Stark, architect
Externally, Local Studio employed approaches that allow form to meet function. The containers are painted a crisp white that reflects heat. Solar panels overhang the building to form a colonnade that shades the surrounding sidewalk as well as roof deck. The structure—which is made of 615,000 pounds of repurposed steel—captures rainwater that feeds the desertscaping along the street. Water refill and bike charging stations are available to guests (the building does not have dedicated car parking). IDA and its amenities meet nearly all of Phoenix’s Climate Action Plan goals, Stark says. While Local Studio is still collecting data from IDA, they expect more than 35% savings on energy bills.
“The impact of a project like this is profound,” says City of Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. “The kind of thinking that brought the project into being is the same kind of thinking we can apply to structures throughout the city.”
Building with nontraditional materials such as containers, and then stacking them on top of concrete culverts traditionally used for water drainage under bridges, Local Studio worked closely with the city to make IDA a reality.
“For a design like this that’s never been done, these aren’t things that fit nicely into our standard building codes and our processes for how to build,” says Phoenix Deputy City Manager Mario Paniagua. It took time and flexibility from both parties, but the result is “so cool, so innovative, so unique,” Paniagua says. “We see it as a demonstration project to show others what can be done and what we’re willing to do to work with them to make it happen.”
IDA marks Local Studio’s fifth container project in Phoenix, which started with the downtown apartments Containers on Grand in 2015 and the shopping and dining hub The Churchill in 2018. “I find it interesting to repurpose material that exists in our world,” Stark says, adding that he wants to combat the ubiquity of stucco high-rises. “There is a uniqueness and novelty to the containers.”
Starting in February, Stark will launch 20-foot prefabricated, solar- and battery-powered shipping container studios that can be installed in residential backyards. A one-bed, one-bath model is also in the works, with the potential to offer generational living or an income-earning unit for homeowners.
“The kind of thinking that brought the project into being is the same kind of thinking we can apply to structures throughout the city.”
—Kate Gallego, City of Phoenix Mayor
Architect: Local Studio, Phoenix, localstudioaz.com