Senior design project envisions VU-owned land as container development

A senior design team reimagined 11-plus Vanderbilt-owned acres in Wedgewood-Houston as a mixed use container development.

A team of civil and mechanical engineering students has a new vision for land Vanderbilt owns in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood of Nashville – apartments for graduate students, restaurants and offices made from 648 used shipping containers.

The senior design project, sponsored by the Civic Design Center, is theoretical, but the team tackled it using real-world engineering skills, including load calculations, foundation materials, energy needs, transportation, sustainability and site evaluation. In all, the site includes 11.66 acres in two parcels that border Chestnut Street, Fort Negley Boulevard, Fort Negley Court and, to the east, active railroad tracks. It is used now for Vanderbilt Printing Services, storage and parking.

At eight feet wide and 40 feet long, the shipping containers already are designed to be stacked, said Julia Finkfrock, a civil engineering senior. The industrial aesthetic keeps with the character of WeHo, the Wedgewood Houston neighborhood, and millions of unused shipping containers sit idly across the country, she said.

“Plus, living small is trendy,” Finfrock said.

The team’s final plan features 89 apartments and four common areas, eight restaurants, 16 retail locations, 24 spaces for research and offices, and 350 parking spots. Sixty percent of the building square footage is dedicated to residential living; restaurant/retail and research/office use account for 20 percent each.

The design projects uses 648 shipping containers for apartments, retail spaces and offices.

The design includes enough solar panels to generate at least half of the expected electricity load and a 3,600 square foot area for covered, vented composting. Retaining some older trees, adding a path around the property and aligning the structures to create open space in the middle contribute to a park-like atmosphere.

Students presented their work to officials from the design center, Vanderbilt and project advisers from Barge Design Solutions, as well as other potential stakeholders, at a recent online workshop.

“I’m impressed with all the planning decisions you made, without being planners,” said Gary Gaston, the Civic Design Center’s CEO.

The range, volume and complexity of the decisions added to the challenge–and the fun. Students said they enjoyed the open-ended nature of the design process. “There wasn’t a single correct answer, said Chloe Namias, a senior in civil engineering. “it was an extremely creative process, and it was all in our own hands.”

In addition to Finfrock and Namias, the senior design team includes Theresa Green and Sarah Politski, civil engineering, and Jeff Cui, Tyler Flanzer and Nicholas Goldreyer, mechanical engineering.

Advisers are Eric Hoke, design director at the Civic Design Center, plus Mary Vavra, Steve Edwards, P.E., and Kevin Smith, P.E., all of Barge Design Solutions. Lori Troxel, professor of the practice of civil and environmental engineering, is the faculty adviser.