Container City: The Colombian Food Court with Personality
In recent years they have popped up around the world, from Mexico to Tokyo, Scotland to Costa Rica, South Africa to Germany, and all over the United States. They have been used for everything imaginable: homes, computer labs, studios, cafes, farms, parks and hotels. Even Starbucks and Tommy Hilfiger have joined the band wagon and opened stores in them.
What are they? Shipping containers. Yes, those large metal containers that are used to ship things overseas. Using these structures for construction gives them a second, and more permanent, life.
Colombia is also in on the trend.
Container City opened to the public in February of 2013 in one of the finest business neighborhoods of Bogota. Twelve shipping containers, each one occupied by a gourmet restaurant, are set around an internal courtyard, with an additional external dining area on one side and at the back.
These shipping containers are not shy; sporting colors like fuchsia, lime green, baby blue, stoplight red and lollipop orange, they shout out irreverence. Add to that the chef graffiti on the outside walls and the result is casual yet classy and a break from the norm in this often conservative area.
Yes, it is a food court. But it's got plenty of personality.
I sat down with the architect, Alejandro Barreneche, to talk about the project, some of the challenges faced, and the construction process.
The project started to be planned in 2010, the necessary permits took fourteen months to obtain, and the construction was finished in three months. Occupation was 100% right from the beginning.
The Container City concept combines materials that are recycled or can be, with some interesting design twists along the way. For instance, the floors are made from residue left over from coffee production. Yes, 100% Colombian coffee…floors.
The center of activity of the food mall is a 12 foot shipping container, a tower of corrugated iron dressed in stately brown. The interesting thing is that it is standing on one end.
Alexander pointed out that although they've stood a container on end in Paris, it has an external support, while this one in Container City is freestanding. The internal structure was designed by a Colombian architect specializing in bridge construction using a base that moves on springs to absorb movement and shocks. So don't worry, it won't come down any time soon; it's even earthquake resistant.
The design also takes into account the year round good weather in Bogota. The courtyard combines open-air dining with a roofed area, allowing natural light to flood in and minimizing the need for artificial lighting.
Space is optimized at Container City. The 948 meter, multi-level area gives the impression that it's bigger than it really is. Typically an area this size would hold only three restaurants, but twelve fit in here without feeling crowded. The layout allows for the easy circulation of people and plenty of open space.
Recycling is just starting to get attention in Bogota, and is not yet a popular concept in most areas. The fact that Container City is occupied mainly by gourmet fast food restaurants helps people in the community value the recycled/recyclable concept even more. And it works – this popular mall is packed even well after the lunch hour.
Container City is hip, artsy, and gets people thinking outside the box (or shipping container). It certainly is a reminder that anywhere around the world, we can all do our part to help the environment.
Karen Attman is a journalist from the United States now living in Bogota, Colombia and writing about food, travel and things that amaze her about this dynamic South American city. You can read her blog at FlavorsofBogota.com.
Images via Peter Corredor