An 'Epic' Container Co-op

By Diana Budds
The good folks at Epic Software are building a video production studio out of old shipping containers just outside of Houston, Texas. They're also dutifully documenting the Creative Co-op's construction process from permitting to pouring the foundation on their blog. Epic's shipping container saga has humble beginnings: The design was initially developed using Google Sketchup and Vic Cherubini—the man at the helm of Epic—found his architect by posting an ad on Craigslist. Their overarching plan has been to use upcycled, recycled, and sustainable materials wherever possible. Vic answered a few of our burning questions, telling about the difficult and rewarding aspects of the project, and why sometimes the best design tools are free.
How did the project come about?
The design for Epic Software's Creative Co-Op was budget-conscious (the projected cost is $175,000 to $200,000) and reflects a DIY sensibility. The structure was first conceived using Google Sketchup—a free design tool. Photo ©2011 epic software group, inc.

The design for Epic Software's Creative Co-Op was budget-conscious (the projected cost is $175,000 to $200,000) and reflects a DIY sensibility. The structure was first conceived using Google Sketchup—a free design tool. Photo ©2011 epic software group, inc.

Epic does 3D animation, multimedia, web development and commercial photography and this year we are celebrating our 20th anniversary. In the late 90’s we hit a growth spurt and used the money we made to buy 4 acres of land and had a studio built on it. We only needed a small part of the land, so I wanted to determine what the best use of the property would be.

I needed a land use plan, so I called the Dean at the University of Houston, College of Architecture, and he put me in touch with Professor Tom Diehl. Mr. Diehl’s 4th year architectural students need to do two community projects – one urban and one rural. We were the rural project for that semester. Tom came out to the epic property with his class and we walked the land and I answered their questions. We divided the class into 3 teams, and like the popular show "The Apprentice". I would judge the results. I said I would buy dinner for the winning team.

About a month after the site visit, Tom called and said the students had their boards ready, and they would formally present them to me at the College. I was simply blown away by the results. These student teams had gone way over the top. They did intensive research (demographic, economic, psychographic, etc.), and the visuals they created were stunning. I could not make up my mind on a winning team, since each had far exceeded my expectations. I said I would buy dinner for everyone, and their choice surprised me as well - pizza - with extra toppings!
An 'Epic' Container Co-op - Photo 2 of 18 -

The studio is currently being built on a small parcel of land in the Woodlands, Texas, which is just outside of Houston. Here, surveyors assess the building site. "I needed a land use plan, so I called the Dean at the University of Houston, College of Architecture, and he put me in touch with Professor Tom Diehl. Mr. Diehl’s 4th year architectural students need to do two community projects – one urban and one rural. We were the rural project for that semester," says Cherubini. Photo ©2011 epic software group, inc.

You mentioned using shipping containers stemmed from a desire to be "different." What in particular drew you to them?
The structure will be built from eleven shipping containers. First, the foundation must be built, and the water and wastewater piping systems installed. Photo ©2011 epic software group, inc.

The structure will be built from eleven shipping containers. First, the foundation must be built, and the water and wastewater piping systems installed. Photo ©2011 epic software group, inc.

One idea that was included in each team’s presentation was the use of Cargo Containers as building structures. I got excited about the idea, and we did a small project in 2006 with one 40’ hi cube container and I loved the way it turned out. When it came time to build our new video production studio, we called in a salesman from a metal building company. He came by with a quote for "…a standard metal building – like you see everywhere". That turned me off. I don’t want a building "Like everyone else’s". I want one that gets you excited about coming to work in the morning so we turned to cargo containers and that got the juices flowing.

When it came time to design the building, we hired two architects who had Mr. Diehl as an instructor when they were in school. We went through 68 iterations with them until we settled on the one we are now building.
Workers lower re-bar framing into the co-op's support system before pouring in concrete. Photo ©2011 epic software group, inc.

Workers lower re-bar framing into the co-op's support system before pouring in concrete. Photo ©2011 epic software group, inc.

You've been regularly blogging about this project since 2009. What do you hope people will gain from reading about it?