Old Containers Given New Purpose at Tire Shop

Sharanth Lawrence Kumarasivan    Big Discount Tire Pros owner, Guido Bertoli, poses in front of some of the shipping containers that make up their new location.

Alameda is a mecca to the architectural historian, featuring homes and commercial structures spanning most major architectural movements since the mid-1800s. 

The city recently became home to a property representing the next bold leap in construction — container architecture.

The new Big Discount Tire Pros shop incorporates 21 previously used shipping containers into its design. The company  moved here from its former facility on Park Street, a historic brick-veneer structure dating back to the 1950s.

Container architecture is a sensible form of construction due to a shipping container’s inherent strength, wide availability and relatively low costs compared to building with traditional materials. According to ArchDaily.com, containers can be likened to Lego blocks — they can be stacked and expanded in any number of combinations, to suit whatever the need of the project.

Container architecture is also sustainable, as it uses containers that would otherwise be laying idle in a scrapyard. In the Bay Area, there is immediate concern for mitigating container buildup. Significantly more goods travel between China and the U.S. than vice versa. It is not economical nor physically safe, in some cases, to carry back the empty containers, and freighters are eager to sell them off. Throughout Oakland (except the Hills), it is a familiar sight to see such containers, stacked and rusting in storage yards awaiting potential buyers.

It is through this pipeline that Big Discount acquired the necessary containers for its facility. According to owner Guido Bertoli, the containers were purchased from Transport Products Unlimited (TPU), a firm specializing in adapting used containers to habitable standards. TPU, in turn, purchases the unprocessed containers from the shipping companies themselves.

Bertoli made sure to primarily use “one-trippers,” containers that made only a single journey before being sold to TPU. Such containers don’t have dents or weathering, remaining aesthetically pleasing to customers, according to Bertoli.

Big Discount has the honor of being Alameda’s first large container-based structure, and could set a valuable precedent for the city’s future. “The city didn’t have a prior experience with overseeing a container project, and now they do,” said Bertoli. “It was a patient process waiting for all the permits.”

Bertoli was not the first, however, to envision containers used in Alameda. A prior design proposal for the Alameda Gateway project on Park Street called for shipping containers, before getting nixed in 2015. Bertoli commissioned the same architecture firm charged with the Gateway proposal — Timbre Architects — to design his tire garage.

The Big Discount garage design aimed to provide a modern experience for the customer,leaving history intact. The new design retains the corrugated steel exterior of the original warehouse, with the shipping containers visible only after stepping foot inside the building. Built as a distribution warehouse for U.S. Steel in the 1930s, it has since been through multiple owners.

Using containers is a fitting tribute to Alameda’s history. Alameda is sacred to the development of containerization and the rapid globalization such commerce entails. Fittingly at the Encinal Terminals in 1959, the Matson Navigation Company erected the world’s first A-frame gantry crane — the structure that allowed for efficiently moving containers from trains and trucks to ships.