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From Drumming With Prince And Beyoncé To Building With Shipping Containers: Queen Cora Constructs Hurricane-Resistant Projects

Cora Coleman grew up scratching out designs on graph paper and flipping through pages of map books.

She is the third generation in her family working in real estate in Houston. She is also a professional drummer who as Queen Cora has performed with superstars such as Beyoncé and Prince and has played for audiences around the world. She is a vegan and is passionate about energy preservation, minimalism and durability.

A hodgepodge of those experiences guided her to form Building Simple Inc., a construction firm that is repurposing shipping containers for residential, commercial and recreational use.   

Queen Cora Coleman performing at a Prince tribute at the Sydney Opera House.

"As a child, I saw entrepreneurship, community development, acquisitions and anything directly linked to real estate as a norm," she said. "I knew that regardless of my career path, having some hand in real estate would be inevitable." 

Coleman is designing two projects using shipping containers in Houston. One is a 3,110 SF, 10-shipping container home in Third Ward. The open concept property will feature three bedrooms, two-and-half bathrooms, a private theater, an office, a rooftop deck and solar panels.

The other is a 300 SF pop-up retail shop in Uptown Park in partnership with property owner Edens. The kiosk will utilize the abundant outdoor space in the high-end, mixed-use center and serve as a socializing space for customers.

Future projects for Building Simple include a model dormitory near Prairie View A&M, which has a need for additional housing due to the expansion of its student enrollment and professional staff. The other is 10 separate container units that will be used for business development for the Emancipation Economic Development Council in Houston’s Third Ward.

From inner-city developments to high-end luxury build-outs, container construction is as an emerging trend that more people are considering. Coleman has found both millennials, who seek minimalism and easy living, and baby boomers, who want sustainability, see the value in the building medium.

The options are limitless, she said — with some open-mindedness and child-like creativity, this type of construction can create shared office space, condominiums, guest quarters, hotels, assisted living facilities, remote hunting and fishing lodges, recording studios and churches. 2Sketch's BJ Kramer is her architect. 

"I have spent a great deal of my music career touring the world," she said. "So I've been privy to witness the architectural excellence in design and mixed-use applications of shipping containers all over the world." 

A rendering of the Uptown Park project in the Galleria area in Houston.

In 2014, she registered her company with the State of Texas and asked her father, George Coleman Jr., to become her adviser, allowing her to support her family's legacy in real estate and position her father near retirement. 

Coleman's lineage in real estate started in 1963 when her grandparents George Coleman Sr. and Ursena Coleman launched GK Coleman & Sons, formerly Standard Realty Co. The family-run business handled the sale, appeal review and appraisal of commercial and residential property, eminent domain and vacant land throughout Harris, Fort Bend, Montgomery, Brazoria and Galveston counties.

After her grandparents died, her father and aunt took over the business and her aunt continues to maintain it today. George Coleman Jr. died two years ago. 

"Real estate is at my core and in my genes, regardless of where I am in the world, as a musician and a creative," Coleman said.   

From A Sustainable Start To Natural Disaster Protection

Coleman was introduced to developing with shipping containers through a quest for sustainable living.

"There is only so much land on the planet, and it is of great benefit to have relationship, ownership, development and appreciation for and with it," she said. 

While researching optimal structures to build on a property she owned in the Saddlecreek Farms community in Crosby, Texas, she discovered concrete homes that were able to withstand the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. At neighboring properties nothing remained but a concrete slab.

She began planning and designing a property for herself using concrete, but the price point was too high. Back to the drawing board she went, and eventually she stumbled across shipping containers. 

"I never veered from them, because as I studied more, it proved to be the best solution," Coleman said.

A 12-person shipping container cottage in Brookshire, Texas

Shipping container structures provide a slew of benefits for commercial, residential and recreational uses, Coleman said. The structures are fire-, water- and wind-resistant, including during natural disasters.

The weathering steel of shipping containers is an acceptable frame in all regions as it has withstood treacherous weather conditions on its journey across the ocean, she said. 

It is also cost-efficient. When using a shipping container, the entire frame, roof and floor are pre-existing. The contractor cuts out the doors, windows and other openings, reducing the cost of labor, materials, storage of materials, considerations of the weather to building and approval times for permitting.  

"You can design in phases according to your budget and build your dream space like Legos while still fully functioning in your structure," she said. 

Other benefits include the quality of the material and that the entire unit can arrive on site and be functional the same day. It can also lower monthly utility bills due to the insulation of the container, and owners can forgo future repairs such as a new roof.

Building Simple builds most projects off-site in a warehouse. The company also constructs properties to fire, wind and safety codes, while improving sustainability and energy efficiency.

Changing Lives

Building Simple owner and drummer Queen Cora Coleman

The sustainable benefit was the major reason a Third Ward homeowner, who asked not to be identified, went to Building Simple to rebuild her home.

The family was one of many displaced due to Hurricane Harvey in November 2017. A few months after the family moved back in, a house fire completely demolished their newly repaired home. 

After experiencing so much property damage in a short period, she wanted to find a more sustainable option, not only for herself but her children. The land where the home sat once belonged to her grandparents. 

A rendering of the Legacy Project shipping container-built home in Third Ward, Houston.

“I didn’t want to lose it," she said. "They worked really hard to get it and didn’t come from a lot. But, they made themselves success[ful] and owned property all over Houston."

After deciding to pursue the container home option, she saw a picture from the California wildfires that showed a neighborhood flattened by destruction. One thing remained, a shipping container, and she said that was confirmation to continue to pursue the method for her own home.  

The house will be designed with safety, water-resistance and other needs in mind, Coleman said. The new home is expected to be completed by mid-May. Once the initial off-site welding and presets are completed, it will take TNT Crane & Rigging less than six hours to put the shipping units in place. 

“My structure won’t cave under the elements of water and wind,” the homeowner said. “It is a matter of choice. I feel like it will last longer. I won’t have to wonder about the structural damage. Even if I want to change any of the interior features, the structure will always be solid.” 

CORRECTION, MARCH 14, 10:15 A.M. CT: The updated version of this story clarifies that the Emancipation project will consist of separate containers.