Sustainable Cities™

The Container Movement - Bogota's Food Court

Today, 90% of all international trade occurs by sea. Huge vessels circumnavigate the globe delivering millions of containers full of the materials and resources needed to sustain our towns and cities. Approximately 17 million of these steel containers are currently in operation worldwide. But what happens to these steel structures when they are not in use at sea?

Container City 1

One answer is to use the containers to create innovative spaces for offices, workshops and housing. Historically these structures have been regarded as temporary, maybe even a little 'hippie' but in recent times more permanent container structures have been formed. The latest on the list; The Container City Food Court in Bogota (the city also known for its efficient bus rapid transit system

Bogota's Container Food Court

Opening in February 2013, the 'Container City' Food Court has been an instant success. Fully occupied with shops and restaurants, the eco-friendly facility boasts a number of impressive features, all centered upon sustainable design.

Firstly, all the materials used in the structure of the court are fully recyclable, even the floors are made from the residue left over in coffee production. Secondly the stacked containers, which form a 948m² area, are arranged to maximize natural light intake and air cooling, creating a comfortable seating plaza. Next, every inch of space is planned for optimal use, allowing twelve different gourmet outlets to exist in a space that would conventionally hold only three restaurants. The containers are also welded together and supported by spring systems rendering the facilities earthquake proof.  

Container Food courtPhoto:Peter Corredor

Located in one of the finest business neighborhoods of Bogota, the 'Container City' Food Court attracts a range of customers from local office workers, to tourists, to young families. The essence and character of the container construction brings the area to life, helping create a new and vibrant city district.  

A Growing Trend

Bogota's food court is just one of many recent examples of how containers are making a name for themselves, not only as temporary structures, but as permanent dwellings used for a variety of purposes. In London alone, where land is at a high premium, there now sits three container cities, forming offices, studios and waterside housing. The Netherlands has a number of highly successful student housing complexes made from containers, one of which, named Keetwonen holds a 1000 housing units. Other uses include holiday homes, education centers, port housing, recording studios, playgrounds, retail shops, exhibitions, workshop areas and even urban gardens such as the Frau Gerolds Garden in Zurich.  

Container Keetwonen Student housingPhoto: Keetwonen La Lezione di Oggi

Why Containers and are they Sustainable?

Container buildings are gaining more recognition because of a number of advantages in both the construction and operation phases of their post sea lifetime.

One of the biggest advantages is cost. Used containers are in abundance and although modifications are needed, the cost per square meter remains relatively cheap. Extending the lifetimes of old shipping containers reduces the need for further steel fabrication and even recycling (melting steel), which is a dirty and energy intensive process.

Construction is quick and efficient with apparent savings in materials, energy and emissions. Offsite pre-fabrication and quick transportation and assembly of container modules mean containers are a real green alternative to typical concrete and steel based structures.  Bogota's 'Container City' Food Court was constructed in a little over 2 months and the London Riverside Building; a permanent container structure with over 1,300m² of office and studio space was built in only 8 days, both highlighting the efficiency of container construction.

Contain City LondonPhoto: Gilda / Flickr

As space is limited in the standard 12 by 2 by 2 meter containers, clever applications and energy saving measures can be implemented. The use of natural light, solar shading and rainwater harvesting compliment roof spaces made available for small scale wind or solar power applications.

Social sustainability is also a major factor in the recent success of container facilities.  Many container housing projects create a special atmosphere, a unique community and a sense of belonging that reinvigorates the local community. This in turn unites local citizens, bringing them together to help form a local identity. This is especially true in Bogota, Keetwonen and the 'Container City' projects in London where the unique container structures act as attractions in their own right.

Container Frau Goldings Garden
Photo: Frau Gerolds Garden Zurich

Look out for more news and cases here at DAC Sustainable Cities on the development of further container facilities. 


Monday, October 07, 2013 / By Christopher William Reeves

Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014