Architecture, urbanism and landscape-design firm Studio One Eleven is significantly expanding the use of repurposed shipping containers with multiple projects throughout Southern California. The affordability of cargo-box reuse is uplifting community-based retail, say the designers.

“Construction remains one of the least-disrupted industries with the most potential impact” said Studio One Eleven Senior Principal Michael Bohn, AIA. “Creating retail with re-used containers not only allows more cost-effective and sustainable development – especially for independent retailers – it also helps build social cohesion and a compelling sense of place to help strengthen community.”

Compared to standard approaches, Bohn and the firm’s developer partners estimate their container projects are less expensive and can significantly reduce the construction schedule. With a decades-long trade imbalance, Southern California has excess shipping containers. Some small-scale food venues are able to purchase them for as low as $2,500-$3,000 per container.

The modular spaces also lead to fresh design concepts with an “industrial cool” factor that appeals to both retailers and customers. Innovative additions include:

  • Second-floor seating
  • Chefs’ gardens
  • Outdoor beer halls for craft breweries
  • Performance stages
  • Creative offices
  • Children’s play areas
  • Private dining and wedding venues
  • Bike and dog facilities
SteelCraft Bellflower, rendering by Studio One Eleven.

Studio One Eleven now has several container-based projects recently completed or in development. All are collaborations with smaller-scale developers aiming to regenerate neighborhoods. And all are variations on the food-hall concept, expanding beyond restaurants to incorporate dynamic trends.

SteelCraft, Los Angeles and Orange County

Studio One Eleven is working with Howard CDM – the developer and builder for SteelCraft – on a series of container-based food halls.

SteelCraft Long Beach opened in late 2016. Its 5,000 square feet houses eight tenants, including independent pizza, dessert, coffee and brewery vendors attracting a wide demographic: from parents with children, seniors, and business people during the day, to working families and younger patrons at night. It is dog- and child-friendly, with a small stage for live entertainment. Since the launch of SteelCraft Long Beach, many other cities have approached the owners for potential SteelCraft locations.

SteelCraft Garden Grove opens in 2019 on a downtown site. Above its 10 craft food and beverage tenants will be a second level seating component, for a total of 20,000 square feet. A working organic farm will provide fresh produce for the chefs on site. Adjacent will be an area accommodating food trucks and temporary kitchens for visiting chefs.

SteelCraft Bellflower opens in 2019 on a 15,000-square-foot site featuring a parabolic wooden shade structure. The design evokes Bellflower’s dairy-industry roots and includes a large performance stage and vertical surface for outdoor movies. SteelCraft Bellflower will offer nine unique tenants including beer, wine, coffee, food and dessert vendors. Centered in the city’s downtown, this SteelCraft location will anchor future investment in the area.

“Shipping containers offer a unique vessel for construction,” said Martin D. Howard, president and CEO of Howard CDM. “Compared to traditional ground-up construction, the cost savings can be around 15% and save up to 40% on the timeline of the build out.”

And SteelCraft Founder Kimberly Gros noted the material’s unique appeal to both vendors and customers, saying, “At SteelCraft, each repurposed shipping container houses a fully built out kitchen, customized to the needs of each tenant. These growing small businesses are able to focus on their craft, side-by-side with other artisans, to provide an exceptional culinary experience to the community.”

Leisuretown, Center City Anaheim

In early 2019 Studio One Eleven will open Leisuretown with developer LAB Holding in Center City Anaheim, a partnership with craft brewer Modern Times Beer. The 32,000-square-foot complex includes a coffee roaster and vegan Mexican food restaurant surrounded by gardens and a swimming pool. Two levels of shipping containers will join a renovated Craftsman-style residence, adjacent barrel-vault commercial building and former auto repair shop.

Describing Leisuretown as “the community’s backyard,” LAB Holding Founder Shaheen Sadeghi said, “When communities tear down history and build all new products, it takes away the soul and the heartbeat of the city. By preserving as many of these buildings as possible and blending with new products built in the area, we hope to create an even better-balanced neighborhood.”

Leisuretown, a LAB Holding partnership with Modern Times Beer, will be “the community’s backyard” using containers and restored buildings.

The Roost, Downtown Santa Ana

The Roost is of a collection of pre-war buildings – an abandoned filling station, barn, and duplex – renovated in late 2015 into a mix of shops and housing. Shipping containers serve as a bar and restaurant and are artfully arranged into a central beer garden and outdoor dining experience. One of Orange County’s first shipping container projects, The Roost is like a living room for its neighbors, and a destination for visitors. Neighbors fondly state that these once derelict buildings have transformed into a community and regional destination.

The Roost, Santa Ana. Rendering by Studio One Eleven.

Studio One Eleven:

Studio One Eleven is an integrated practice of architecture, urbanism and landscape design dedicated to creating vibrant communities. We believe that architects and planners play a crucial role in the making of cities and that we have a responsibility to craft our built environment in ways that support our current and future collective well-being.  Studio One Eleven finds ways to make cities more environmentally responsible, resilient, and prosperous while addressing livability and equity for all residents. For more information, visit or connect via Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn

Form Magazine

Author: Form Magazine

FORM: pioneering design, a publication that celebrates Southern California’s contribution to architecture, design, and the visual arts.