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What Can You Do With an Old Shipping Container? Turn It Into a Commissary.

The E and H Commissary as it looked during construction on Tuesday before its installation on the SMU campus
The E and H Commissary as it looked during construction on Tuesday before its installation on the SMU campus

Speaking of big doings on the SMU campus ...

Next week brings the first-ever Engineering & Humanity Week to the Hilltop, courtesy the Hunter & Stephanie Hunt Institute for Engineering & Humanity. And among its myriad highlights is the construction of the so-called Living Village, where students will "live, cook their meals and sleep in temporary shelters designed to house people displaced by war and natural disasters," it says here. There, you'll find Friend of Unfair Park Harvey Lacey's Plastic Block House, made of those bales of recycled plastic to which we introduced you back in December.

Brent Brown, head of bcWORKSHOP and the Dallas CityDesign Studio at City Hall, and I were on the phone this morning, and during our chat he introduced yet another element of the Living Village: the E and H Commissary, which is made from a converted shipping container.

Says Brown, quite simply, "The goal of this is to think differently about food distribution." As in: He wants to see if it's possible to turn these old containers -- which will be solar-powered, outfitted with rain-catchers and easy to move using a trailer -- into food distribution centers for, let's say, local farmers or community gardens wanting to sell their goods off-site.



"We want to know: Can these types of facilities help community gardens and farmers markers?" he says. "It locks down tight and opens up completely. It's like a side-of-the-road farmers market, except it's durable and costs $150 to move around. We chose a container because it's about re-purposing." Which seems to be all the rage these days.

Says Brown, the containers cost about $1,8000, and bcWORKSHOP actually bought a 45-footer last year to convert into a "field office and gallery space." This one's smaller: 20 feet by 8 feet by 8 feet.

"A couple of months ago, we got asked to participate in this village by the Hunt Institute, and we said we don't do disaster relief housing. But we said, 'We have this commissary,' and we wondered what could be the afterlife. We don't just want to make it for E and H week. Talking to Stephanie Hunt, we said, 'How about community gardens?' Maybe this is a way to help them distribute their food. And since it's solar-powered, you can run a laptop to keep track of inventory and have a different relationship other than just a tent. There's still a lot to work out, but we've been visiting with folks in the movement, and there's been some excitement about how to engage it."

So, could it be, let's say, a food truck?

"Sure," Brown says, "but that would require for it to be stationary and work within the code. But our interest was to get some excitement locally about this, which is the goal of the workshop. We're not creating every idea, but we're seeing what's happening and trying to example it."


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