Modular Building Institute
Modular Building Institute





From Ship to Shop: Repurposed for Retail

Harrison Street Oasis located in Oakland, CA / Source: UrbanBloc, Inc.

Harrison Street Oasis, located in Oakland, CA, aimed to provide a home for two emerging and local retail brands, Equator Coffee - a premium coffee retailer - and Urban Remedy - a boutique health food and beverage store - within a rapidly transforming downtown urban location.

The project developer saw an opportunity to transform a tiny backyard space of a remodeled building into a raised courtyard flanked by two custom commercial modular units fabricated from repurposed shipping containers. The retail units focus their energy into the public courtyard creating an intimate gathering space with tables, chairs, and shade structures to provides a welcome oasis for customers and residents alike.

The project was embraced by the City of Oakland and its residents, who have embraced ideas like ‘Urban Acupuncture.’ The utilization of “forgotten corners” in dense, urban locations to create intimate human-scale amenities that provide life and security to the streets has become a model for many other projects currently in the works.

The project was built by UrbanBloc, Inc. a northern California based container modification company, with design and engineering performed by R & S Tavares Associates. This 570 sq. ft. project took just over 100 days to complete.

Harrison Street Oasis floorplan / Source: UrbanBloc, Inc.

Both units were constructed to become models for future roll-outs. Studies and tests were conducted both digitally and on the factory floor with the clients to define retail environment, workflow efficiency, and optimal customer and staff interactions.


Custom requirements and tolerances for equipment and infrastructure within such a constrained envelope that needed to be integrated within the overall fabrication system and then finished to an extremely high-aesthetic fit and build quality. The units were constructed to be Plug-and-Play site ready, with only foundation and utility connections in the field. All finishes and assemblies were required to withstand the flex of road transportation yet be seamless and tight as required by Environmental Health standards for food use.



Harrison Street Oasis located in Oakland, CA / Source: UrbanBloc, Inc.



Cost Effectiveness

In comparison to brick and mortar build-outs, the clients report a savings of around 50%. This is partially in design/ build costs and partially due to the revenue generation as a result of the extremely quick timeline. Looking at future projects, the savings are expected to be even greater as the prototyping efforts, permitting and production layouts have been already invested in the units and captured by our procedures.

“We see the use of modified shipping containers as building components growing in the near future,” said MBI Executive Director Tom Hardiman. “That is one of the reasons we worked with the International Code Council to develop more resources for developers and code officials interested in this process.”



This article originally appeared in the Modular Advantage Magazine - Second Quarter 2019 released in May 2019.



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