Modular Containers in 2019: A quick, flexible construction alternative

Entrepreneurs, restaurateurs & business owners looking to stem the growing construction costs may be looking to modular and/or intermodal container alternatives to relieve project budgets and construction schedules.

To meet client needs, SGA Design Group has designed several versions of Modular spaces for their clients, by using Ambient Temperature Cargo Containers, Ambient Temperature Panelized Systems and Low/Medium Temperature Panelized Systems. They can provide clients a well-balanced insulated space necessary for comfortable interiors in operational areas.

Modular expansions can provide quick, flexible ways for merchants to establish or increase their square footage with minimal effect on existing operations, limited noise/crew disruptions and far lower costs and timeframes than conventional construction.

Final finishes can be applied at the factory, which also eliminates one or two construction trades, as well as potential paint overspray and debris generation on the business site.  If jurisdictional zoning requirements necessitate enhanced architectural palettes, Modulars can be designed to receive faux or thin stone, brick, or wood veneers.

The versatile flexibility of Modulars are already showing worldwide influence in enterprises of all sizes from major chains to mom-and-pops. For instance, Starbucks’ first Taipei café, designed by Japanese Architect Kengo Kuma, was made out of 29 whitewashed shipping containers, which cantilever at perpendicular angles to convey the “uneven foliage of coffee trees,” in his words.

Shipping-container restaurants and cafés are globally becoming viable food-truck alternatives, providing intimate “shack” settings for cuisine and coffee, but with the feel of a permanent structure. London’s Movement Café, built of wood-veneered containers as a pop-up café catering to London Olympics spectators, was built in 16 days. In Montréal, a container provided the framework for a pavilion-style Porchetta Italian bistro. In Asheville, NC, Nineteen corrugated steel containers formed the Smokey Park Supper Club, a popular retreat for boaters, bikers and pedestrians. In Germany, two containers lend a “diner” aura to Imbiss, a roadside café painted in the national colors for regional flavor.

Taco Bell refashioned three 40-foot containers into a pop-up taco stand for Austin’s SXSW (South By Southwest) music and film conference in three days. This is a prototype for future use of containers in the chain’s planned long-term expansion to 2,000 new locations.

Walmart outlets outside of Dallas, TX have partnered with LiftOff Coffee to provide converted containers into coffee kiosks serving beverages on draft to shoppers.  The advantage of using the modular space was that it was shipped to the store with preinstalled finishes, flooring and equipment that could be easily bolted into place.  The Walmart in Sheridan, WY, used containers for a staged expansion to minimize disruption to customers, to integrate online grocery pickup into its operations.

Modular containers save money in other respects, too. For USMC Air Station Miramar’s self-storage facility in an underutilized parking lot in Sand Diego, 160 container units were assembled in three weeks, yielding substantial revenue streams and improving customer convenience. To help UPS in Louisville, KY cut labor costs and package loading/unloading time at sorting centers, 400 containers were designed with doors on both ends. The containers were further designed so that five containers fit in one 53-foot truck. At Plenty United in Wyoming, 96 container units assembled in two weeks lowered water/energy costs and increased farming crop yield. The extreme mobility of containers enabled Go2Market in Puerto Rico to transform 102 of them into portable kiosks to rent to clients, thus creating a highly profitable business by saving production costs.

Modular Container manufacturers, in response to these trends, are expanding their toolbox too. USC is expanding the capacity of their containers to be fire-resistant, energy-efficient, and refrigeration-capable. For example, a new fire-resistant design could contain a fire for 4 hours at a maximum 1,200°F temperature. Other designs can power a converted container off the grid with photovoltaic solar panels, emphasizing the portability of containers

Similarly, KPS Global’s insulated panels could complement container-based construction, given retailers’ increasing preference for them over conventional building methods in such areas as bakery prep, food courts, cold storage, and online grocery pickup.  “As retailers respond to customer demands for prepared foods, they are seeing the benefit of modular insulated panels,” said Sean McGrann, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for KPS Global. “Not only do the panels reduce the construction time, but retailers also benefit from food safety certifications that come with insulated panels.”

“Construction managers have seen three to four weeks shaved off the schedule by utilizing modular insulated panels over traditional construction methods,” added Tom Beatty, Vice President of Construction Services for KPS Global.

Modular and intermodal containers and insulated panel systems epitomize the ecologically sustainable capitalism of the future with their ability to lower construction costs and timeframes, provide comfortable retail/restaurant spaces, increase cost-effective expansion capacity, decrease operation expenses, provide optimum flexibility in space arrangement and finish selection, and imbue the shopping/dining experience with a little industrial aesthetic while they’re at it.