Back in June 2019, Post Brothers, a real estate development specializing in Philadelphia apartment rentals took a 35,000 square foot space in Northern Liberties neighborhood and created a pop-up mixed-use park out of recycled shipping containers that took the city by storm!
Before COVID-19 made us really appreciate the importance of outdoor recreational spaces in a crowded city, Piazza Pod Park introduced Philadelphia apartment residents to beer-garden-style dining, open-air shopping, art installations, fitness activities, and family play areas.
The shipping container was conceived in the 1950s by American businessman Malcom McLean. It was only widely adopted after the US military used containers to supply its war effort in Vietnam in the 1960s.
After the Vietnam war, container ports were built in Japan and then the rest of the world. Old ports, such as in New York, were devastated, while ports in California, became the new center of global shipping.
With more than 18 million shipping containers in the global fleet, shipping containers have become an icon of globalization and could just as easily be gathering rust on the side of a dock
At the same time, shipping containers have become a surprising part of modern urbanization, infrastructure and the built environment. Here, their boxy and bland conformity has become a tableau for creativity, innovation and experimentation as Post Brothers successfully demonstrated at Piazza Pod Park in Northern Liberties.
Container architecture has roots in both mid-20th-century modernism and an entirely different approach to architecture and urbanism that emerged in the new millennium.
Forerunners to today’s container architecture can be seen in Yona Friedman’s La Ville Spatiale, the work of Japanese Metabolists, such as Arata Isozaki, and the Plug-in City of Peter Cook and the Archigram Group.
These architects imagined vast mega-structures to support countless mobile, transportable and containerised units.
In the early 2000s an entirely different approach to architecture and urbanism was emerging.
The shipping container slotted into this movement nicely. Whether it’s a container bar, a pop-up retail shop or beer garden, a garden shed, a prepper’s bunker or entire university dorms, the shipping container has become a common feature of the modern built environment.
Much has been made of the use of containers in architecture, even though their suitability for long-term living is widely debated. Less explored is the way containers have been transforming infrastructure.
There is great need for easy access to infrastructure, from medical facilities to water treatment around the world. The shipping container is an appealing option, being rapidly deployable, scaleable, transportable, and a turn-key solution in far-flung locales from one end of the earth to the other.
Again, the military has been at the forefront of many of these innovations, as have the oil, gas and mining industries, where containers are used for housing, sanitation, cooking and power generation.
Innovative approaches to containerised infrastructure are rapidly expanding outside the military and energy sectors.
Interest in containerised green energy is growing. In fact, fully containerised biogas plants using methane generated from landfill or agricultural waste are a mature industry.
Containerised solar and wind power generators are also generating a lot of interest. Green Tech Africa, for example, is aiming to provide solar power to sub-Saharan Africa through systems including containerised solar power and storage systems.Innovative approaches to containerised infrastructure have expanded outside the energy sectors.
A more surprising use of containers is food production. Companies are experimenting with a complete hydroponic growing system using super-efficient LEDs. It can produce the equivalent of one acre of lettuce inside a single container
Water purification and sewage treatment are another two infrastructure services that have been containerised, with systems on offer from many companies.
Containers are also providing scaleable solutions for digital infrastructure as well, from solar-powered internet cafes in refugee camps and developing cities to the rapidly growing market for data centres in the developed world.
These are just some of the innovative and emerging infrastructure services that are being containerised and deployed, not only in the developing world, but right in our own backyards in Northern Liberties at Piazza Pod Park.
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