On December 13, just south of Starbuck’s hometown of Seattle, a new drive-thru location opened up in Tukwila, Washington. Unlike the other 17,000 locations though, this one is built from reused shipping containers. Green architecture isn’t new for Starbucks, last year they began opening LEED certified cafés around the world, but this is the first one utilizing cargotecture—the reuse of cargo shipping containers for architecture.
Starbuck’s isn’t the first coffee company to use shipping containers (Illy previously used a transforming shipping container as a café at the Venice Biannale and Ritual Proxy opened this summer in San Francisco) nor is their architect the first to design with them—though they speak as if they were:
We were able to open our minds to the use of very common elements destined for the landfill as structure for a high-quality, drive-thru coffee house design – essentially creating an industrial beacon for sustainable thinking. –Tony Gale III
I’m a big fan of shipping container architecture and applaud reuse in any form—however, I find it ironic that the modest green giant’s “beacon for sustainable thinking” is a drive-thru coffee shop in the suburbs. Maybe the sheer spectacle will introduce a unique perspective to a new audience, but I don’t see how a line of idling cars waiting for their trenta ice coffee is a beacon for anything other than the worst of American consumerism and suburban sprawl.
For being as large as Starbucks is, they aren’t entirely bad. I may not like their coffee, but I also won’t deny the trail they blazed for specialty coffee or the sustainability efforts they do make. Sadly, the reality of being a publicly-traded company too often encourages them to make decisions that counter all of their positive efforts (like joining the K-Cup trend) for the sake of maximizing profits.
In the long run, if this prototype became the new format for all future drive-thru locations, it could reduce the use of virgin material in construction and inspire other large companies to follow suit. But please Starbucks, show a bit of humility—shipping container architecture is not a Starbucks invention, nor is roasting “light.”
More photos and an interview with Starbucks on Inhabitat