When Jennie Greene broke ground on Northwest 23rd Avenue for a flower shop in a former shipping container, some neighbors cringed.

"It was ugly," admits Greene's landlord, Alex McIntosh. "But then she transformed it."

On April 1, Greene opened what city development officials say is Portland's first commercial shipping container converted into a building. The 8-by-20-by-16-foot structure is bolted into a parking space behind Vivace coffeehouse (owned by McIntosh and his wife, Gabriela) at Northwest 23rd Avenue and Pettygrove Street.

Shipping containers are touted as environmentally sound and inexpensive options by builders, affordable-housing advocates, artists and the U.S. Army. They can be found at large warehouse distributors and made into barracks, one-room apartments and, now, flower shops.

The industrial steel containers, at $2,500 a pop, are cheaper and tougher than comparable building materials.

You can find them, as Greene did, in the Nickel Ads.

Greene, a 37-year-old metalworker and photographer, likes her 6,000-pound, now-insulated baby for its aesthetics.

"It's kind of like moving into a soda-pop can," she says.

Strict building regulations in the posh neighborhood did mute her plans, which were more industrial than the current Alice in Wonderland cottage look. But she's focused on her flower art, which is all about contrasts (chicken wire or a three-inch bolt in an arrangement).

Greene recalls cooling her shop by setting out ice and lemons in front of fans. The lemons showed up in her floral creations, as did a few screws from the fans.

"It's been a funky evolution," Greene says.