The Puget Sound, located along the northwestern coast of Washington, is one of the world's busiest shipping ports, its waterways filled with a sprawling array of dockyards, cargo ships and lots and lots of shipping containers. These containers, used to transport cargo all around the world, have a working life of just about 20 years, give or take. After that, they're destined for the scrapyard.
Or, were, until one of the state's best-known exports - Starbucks - found a way to give them a second life.
Starbucks' corporate headquarters overlooks the bustling port of Seattle; from that vantage point, inspiration struck the company's designers. Recognizing their own survival depends on the use of those very containers, filled with imported coffees and teas, Starbucks wanted to incorporate them into a new and unique store design.
That they did.
Tukwila, Washington, is home to the company's first shipping container store, which opened for business in 2011. The LEED-certified store is a slight 450 square feet - about as much space as the company's other franchises have behind the counter - leaving just enough space for drive-through and walk-up service.
This flagship store is a modular structure, meaning it was assembled at another location, then lowered into place by crane. In no time, the Tukwila store became the inspiration for the far-reaching chain's new "modern modular drive-thru platform."
By 2013, similar shipping-container stores had sprung up throughout the United States, most with a local twist. Locations in Salt Lake City (its smallest, at just 386 square feet), Chicago (made in California and shipped to its new home in Edgewater), Denver and Portland came first, followed by Virginia Beach, Virginia, Casper, Wyoming, and Federal Way, Washington.
Many of these specialty locations also have a specific local/regional bent. The Portland, Oregon, location, for example, plays heavily into the city's bike-friendly culture; designers teamed with Urban Racks, a Dutch bike company, for a custom bike rack feature, allowing cycling coffee drinkers to enjoy their java on the go.
Starbucks Director of Concepts Anthony Perez said of the Portland store in an interview with The Oregonian, "When designing this store for Portland, our in-house design team considered a variety of factors, including the world-famous biking culture, temperate climate, pet-friendly community, communal sensibilities, and residents who place as much importance on sustainability as we do. And of course Portland's love of coffee."
With these new stores, Starbucks is also focused heavily on sustainability. Properties are xeriscaped, and plant features are fed with rooftop gray-water collectors; the two-container Colorado store's cladding is made from recycled Wyoming snow fencing and Douglas fir from a defunct, east-Washington grain mill.
In an interview with the Seattle Times, company spokesman Alan Hilowitz said, "Our coffee and tea are shipped from their countries of origin in shipping containers, so this is kind of full circle for us."
Love it or hate it, you've gotta give Starbucks credit here for thinking outside - or is it inside? - the box on this one.