Boxed in: UF lecturer helps construct house made of shipping containers

Robert DiPiazzas’s unusual home will take about 11 months to complete finish from ground work to finishing touches like flooring and window placement.

Robert DiPiazza lives in steel shipping containers.

He says his three-story reddish-brown home was born out of tragedy. A tree tore through the roof of his previous home in St. Augustine during Hurricane Irma in 2017.

The damage left the home that DiPiazza and his family lived in for more than 30 years destroyed.

“It’s not to say that I look at the tragedy aspect, I see it more as rebirth,” he said.

Out of this, the Prince Road Container House, originally the Prince Road Phoenix House, was built, DiPiazza said. The name is a metaphor for a phoenix rising from the ashes or a rebirth.

In August, DiPiazza and Stephen D. Bender, a UF architecture lecturer, teamed up to begin DiPiazza’s new home, which is made entirely from old shipping containers.

The home has about 1,900 square feet of floor space and includes three bedrooms and two bathrooms, Bender said.

The pair applied for permits in July, and the foundation for the house was laid in August. By December, the containers began to be placed on the property.

Each shipping container costs about $1,600, and the complete construction is estimated to be $200,000, which is about $100 per square foot, Bender said. It will also have a kitchen and open space for living and dining.

The choice of utilizing containers as building material depended on more than just the industrial aesthetic design, Bender said.

“It’s very sustainably sound. The containers have been used, and we are upcycling them to a newer use,” Bender said. “It’s also about durability. If a tree falls next time, it’s less likely to cause him a headache.”

The pair first met during their business partnership to bring a pop-up shipping container market to St. Augustine’s mainland side, Bender said. After DiPiazza’s home was destroyed, he said DiPiazza approached him with the idea to design and to help him construct his new home instead.

To some, shipping containers may feel too cold and industrial, DiPiazza said.

In order to combat this idea, DiPiazza, an avid street art collector, and a Barcelona-based artist known as Cane painted a mural about the home’s journey on the side of one of the containers since its destruction resulted from Hurricane Irma.

“He definitely tells a story in his paintings. I decided to have it tell the story of losing the house,” DiPiazza said.

DiPiazza is mainly relying on his own manpower to complete the project, and he said he will hopefully finish the home within the next four months. He said the struggle is more mental rather than physical.

Constructing something out of atypical material like containers isn’t usually within a person’s comfort zone, but it is worth it in the end, DiPiazza said.

“But knowing when the structure is set and completed, then it becomes this space that you simply built up,” he said.