On any given day, travelers passing the Port of Seattle can see hundreds of stacked steel cargo boxes. These boxes have traveled thousands of miles around the world, carrying just about anything you can imagine. Now, a few of them are carrying just about any kind of coffee you can imagine.
"Our designers were inspired to create this store both as a result of the shipyard that can be seen out the back windows of our headquarters in South Seattle, as well as a desire to recycle the same kind of shipping containers that transport our coffees and teas around the world," said Alan Hilowitz, a spokesman for Starbucks.
Starbucks may have earned itself some nice PR for its odd choice of building material. But making structures out of shipping containers, a practice known as cargotecture, is anything but new.
Joel Egan, co-founder of Seattle's HyBrid Architecture + Assembly has been designing with container boxes since his company's inception in 2003. One of HyBrid's creations, the c3600 office building in Georgetown, is, according to Egan, the largest piece of cargotecture in the western U.S.
Like other cargotecture advocates, Egan is quick to play up the benefits of designing with containers. The big boxes are recyclable, easy to move, and can last up to 400 years. Less obvious, he says, are the emotional benefits.
"It can be poetic to have this box, which is a global traveler, and bring it to rest on a site where it can have respite and people can see it," says Egan.
Starbucks isn't even the first coffee company to get into cargotecture. Two coffee houses in Austin, Texas, have been built out of single container boxes by the firm designSTUDIOmodern.
Despite making inroads into commercial buildings, cargotecture doesn't figure to replace the standard home anytime soon. "These [shipping containers] are not appropriate for affordable housing," says Egan.
The amount of extra steel needed to add doors, windows, and vents along with the costs of appliances can make carogtecture homes more expensive than conventional ones. At least for now.