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Staying Green with Shipping Container Forests

It’s common knowledge that completing a project takes time. Once an area is in development, the completed product could take months to years to be considered finished, in addition to the fact that a project’s landscape element typically takes places closer to the end of a production cycle.

As these “waiting seasons” are an everyday element in the world of construction, what would happen if the design element took them into account? What if short-term or interim strategies could be blended with a designer’s ideas from the beginning?

This is the methodology chosen by Manhattan’s Hudson Square neighborhood to be incorporated into its “Streetscape Improvement Plan.” The plan is of the understanding that production is a product of circumstance and that the progressive implementation of a landscaping plan is an essential part of an area’s development. If you were to tour Hudson Square now, you would witness construction projects everywhere, obstructions in the streets, and scaffolding surrounding many structures. As a retort to the “waiting season” typically correlated with ongoing construction, the plan details short-term landscaping approaches to instantly boost the general livability of a construction area.

One of these tactics is a container forest.

The effective implementation and reuse of dumpsters and shipping containers has been showcased in architectural circles, with Brooklyn’s Dekalb Market and San Francisco’s PROXY being fantastic examples. Hudson Square’s “Streetscape” approach develops this idea by reusing thirty CY dumpsters, filling them with dirt, and planting greenery to deliver an immediate landscape during construction projects. These dumpsters are around four feet tall, so plants provide an instant, green exhibit at eye-level.

At Hunt’s Point Landing in Bronx, NY, a shipping-container-turned-storage-shed provides an empty drawing board for up-and-coming artists.

Here’s the cool part. These containers are mobile and can be positioned and re-positioned by container moving companies as production continues; they also block unsavory views and temporarily liven-up streets until the point in the project where permanent landscaping can be provided. Their mobile nature makes it easy for the containers to be placed at the ends of city blocks as a better option than placing chain-link during events, as were deployed at the Summer Streets program in New York.

Planted areas, even as temporary solutions, provide a porous surface for rain water collection and infiltration. A tactic thought-up by the “master plan” was to retrofit the bottom of each dumpster, essentially creating a “bowl” to catch rain water as it flows from the street. Instead of it pouring straight into the sewer, the water would get caught and stored within the dumpster, effectively feeding plant life.

These mobile planters could be long-term solutions if situated near loading docks, behind structures, or in locations where subsurface enhancements are not feasible, like Fox Square.

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