Rapid Relief: Atlanta's First-Ever Multifamily Shipping-Container Development

With 40 units constructed from 20 shipping containers that previously served as temporary hospital space during the pandemic, The Melody is a fast-moving model for reducing homelessness.
By Maggie Murphy
May 3, 2024

The city of Atlanta is committed to providing 20,000 new affordable housing units by 2030—and they’re already 40% of the way there, with more than 8,000 units either already built or in development. The latest batch of 40 units—constructed from 20 shipping containers that previously served as temporary COVID-19 hospital extensions in Macon, Georgia—was delivered in just 60 days’ time by design-build firm The Beck Group and serves as dignified housing for the unhoused population of Atlanta.

Following Beck’s feasibility study in partnership with the city in February 2023, the company heard radio silence until September. “We got a call that the project was moving forward and needed to be completed by Christmas, and I said ‘Christmas 2024? I think we can do that,’” says Ryan Woods, commercial practice leader for Beck. “When they said, ‘No, Christmas 2023,’ I laughed, but then I said, ‘All right, let’s do it.’”

Step one was figuring out how to effectively decommission the hospital ICU wards and move them from Macon to Atlanta in 14 days, which was a challenge in and of itself. Once the containers arrived at the project site—a parking lot located on Forsyth Avenue in downtown Atlanta—the Beck team worked with city officials to fast-track building permits and get down to business. “We basically were building the plane while we were flying it,” Woods says.

The Melody, named for an unhoused Atlanta woman who passed away after a struggle with chronic homelessness and mental illness, is the first-ever container-based—and the fastest-built—multifamily project in Atlanta history. Comprising 40 individual housing units, each with its own private entrance, full bathroom, bed and kitchenette, The Melody blends biophilic elements, soothing colors, adjustable lighting and ADA accessibility to create spaces where residents can relax and feel at home.

“The overall goal for this space was to really create both a sense of home and a sense of community,” Woods says. “The design principles for [The Melody] included five key elements that inform what’s referred to as ‘trauma-informed design’: views of nature, varied light strategies, residential-grade finishes, minimal clutter and autonomy and control.”

Those principles translate into elements such as a dog park (“unhoused people will sometimes refuse shelter if they can’t bring their pet,” Woods says), lots of green space and natural elements, and a community center that serves as a central gathering place. The development is also situated just a few steps away from the nearest MARTA station, giving residents easy access to the city’s light-rail system, in addition to a newly constructed Greyhound bus station.

“The beauty of this project and one of the most rewarding things about it is that we’re able to see the direct impact this has on the local community. There are no strings attached on this housing—it’s really come as you are,” Woods says. “I’ve never designed anything like this before, but it’s awesome. The fact that we were able to turn this around in record time and get to see these impacts happening live—I think it’s a testament to what we can accomplish when the vision is clear, we’re guided by our hearts, and everyone is moving in the right direction.”

by Maggie Murphy
Maggie Murphy is managing editor of Construction Executive.

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