Over the past couple of weeks there’s been a good deal of attention being thrown at an intriguing, large-scale shipping container building project in China. And although it doesn’t fit into the residential category in the very least bit, I thought I’d see what all the fuss is about.

Located just outside the bucolic wonderland known as Shanghai, Tony’s Farm is a big (the largest in the city) organic fruit and veggie farm/tourist trap that recently got a brand spanking new visitors center constructed from the shells of 78 old (?) cargo containers. The 11,400 square foot complex houses a gift shop, office space, reception area, and the lobby for an on-site shipping container hotel that’s currently in the works as phase two of the project (the rooms themselves will be scattered across the farm and guests will be deposited at them via electric cars, natch). There’s also a “VIP area” within the new structure although I’m not exactly sure what that would entail at an agrarian enterprise centered around “healthy food, responsible lifestyle, and environmental harmony.” Maybe a hang-out room for CSA Subscribers of the Month? Beyond the velvet ropes, high-rollers can indulge in unlimited crudités and complimentary bottles of fresh-pressed apple juice.

With building design that’s “driven by the concept of sustainability” and traditional Chinese building typologies (i.e. inner courtyards), the project architect, the Shanghai office of Berlin-based firm Playze, notes that that the structure “communicates and promotes the core concept of Tony’s Farm.” The architects go on to explain that “the building and the environment is meant to create a virtual dialogue between the industrial aspects of food production and the surrounding farmland.”

Energy consumption was a top priority in the building’s design:

In order to cope with the high aspirations of the client regarding the protection of the environment, several strategies have been used to reduce the energy consumption of the building. The entire structure is well insulated, even though the containers appear in it’s raw form. The original container doors have been perforated and serve as external shading blinds at the sun exposed facades to minimize solar heat gain. A geothermal heat pump delivers energy for the air conditioning and floor heating systems. Controlled ventilation helps to optimize air exchange rates and therefore to minimize the energy loss through uncontrolled aeration. The use of LED lighting reduces the general electricity consumption.
As was harnessing local/reclaimed materials:
Another ambition of the project is to reduce the energy hidden in construction materials, the so called grey energy. Therefore recycled, ecologically sustainable, fast growing or at least recyclable materials have been used. The re-use of freight containers seemed adequate, first for its inherent structural autarky and second for being a common metaphor for "recycled space." Further, the minimal weight of the container structure allowed to re-use the existing foundation plate. The use of local bamboo products for indoor and outdoor flooring, as well as all the built-in furniture additionally supports the ambition of constructing a truly sustainable building.
Adequte indeed. However, Lloyd Alter over at TreeHugger brings up a good point, one that I’ve tackled beforetruly how self-sufficient and sustainable are shipping containers as a building material if you’re using a massive amount of energy and resources to simply tear the boxes apart? When does reuse become deconstruction? And in this case, are the containers actually being reused? While retired shipping containers may be in surplus commodity at American ports, it’s often the opposite case at Chinese ports — Shanghai being the world’s busiest — where you’ll find predominately new containers waiting to be shipped overseas. Therefore, there’s the possibility that the containers used on Tony’s Farm haven’t even been used for their original purpose as a TreeHugger commenter points out.

Whatever the case, it’s a rather lovely structure — certainly less obnoxiously in-your-face than the Starbucks shipping container drive-through outside of Seattle — and the mission of Tony’s Farm is nothing short than commendable.

Via [TreeHugger] via [ArchDaily], [Inhabitat]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Cargotecture commingles with carrots at organic farm in Shanghai
Shanghai's largest organic farm branches out into the hospitality industry. The first step? Constructing a visitors center from over 70 shipping containers.