The Stockyard


The Stockyard is a public open-air plaza designed around stackable repurposed shipping containers. These 320 square foot colorful containers can be linked, combined and stacked in creative arrangements similar to children's Legos. There are an estimated two million unused international standard containers in the US at any given time. A growing global architectural movement is exploring ways to use these containers to replenish building stock and even provide affordable housing. The variety of appearances of the containers is only limited to the designer's creativity. Due to their precise specifications, containers can be arranged in an exact pattern. The Stockuard would be designed in a pattern and at a height to create an interior plaza that moves foot traffic smoothly from 18th to 19th street. Containers should also be configured to provide visual appeal and interact with the sidewalk along Powell and First Avenue South in addition to the open ends along 18th and 19th streets. Such a pattern would create an interesting streetscape along all exterior roads.

Building on the walkability and attractiveness of Railroad Park is key to transforming the new midtown district. Any extension of the park should capitalize on the connection to Birmingham's railroad history and the purposeful flexibility of the park's design. The Stockyard will continue the theme of rejuvenation by using former shipping containers and railroad cars in innovative and flexible ways to shape the feel of the district. Creative leasing arrangements should allow for shortterm uses in some of the space that let it adapt and change seasonally ensuring a consistently unique experience for the public. Uses could include, but are not limited to, coffee bars, art studios, concert venues, bike rentals, street food vendors, temporary arts or craft shows, haunted houses, playgrounds and office space. In addition to flexible creative space that can be shaped by public involvement, leasing the space would provide additional income to Railroad Park and offer a transition space through which the public can walk, skate, or ride to the railroad cut and on to Sloss Furnaces. By using the iconic images of shipping containers, patrons will be reminded of how Birmingham is reshaping itself into a 21st century city on top of its proud history. This unique space will draw individuals from surrounding areas and will be an attendance multiplier for Railroad Park.

Researchers such as Richard Florida have suggested that cities will need to attract and retain the creative class or knowledge workers to maintain competitiveness in the 21st century. The most competitive cities have interesting, active streets that produce interaction and result in innovative businesses, art, and relationships. The Stockyard is a collaborative, shifting space intentionally designed to attract active users. Short term lease options provide the opportunity for everything from shared work space for freelance graphic designers, to a bicycle rental and repair shop, to pop-up retail stores, to recording space for innovative record producers looking for a unique sound, to restaurants hoping to attract business by setting up temporary tasting centers. The interior of The Stockyard is intentionally designed to be a plaza of creative interaction. Outdoor seating, street vendors, and free wifi would compliment Railroad Park's beautiful green space while offering a distinct user experience. Multiplying this experience is The Stockyard's unique shipping container design. The design itself would attract new individuals to an area of town previously unexplored. It would serve to further inspire young residents by illustrating a cutting edge mentality not typically associated with Birmingham. This environmentally friendly, architecturally forward thinking space would show both what Birmingham has been and what it could be.
The Stockyard is, at its core, a space uniquely designed to represent Birmingham. In the same way that Railroad Park repositioned the railroad tracks from a physical barrier into "Birmingham's river", The Stockyard uses our shared industrial history as a catalyst. Through the adaptive reuse of shipping containers, this project will shift public perception of railroad cars and shipping containers from utilitarian symbols of a bygone era to a green building block to the future. Building on the post-industrial theme of Railroad Park, The Stockyard pushes east toward the railroad cut and Sloss Furnace. The great public spaces of the world are great not because of a formulaic approach, but because they capitalize on the unique ingredients of a local culture and history. This is true of Jackson Square in New Orleans, Central Park in Manhattan, or Pike Place Market in Seattle. What is more Birmingham than a linear public space consisting of a new Baron's field, Railroad Park, The Stockyard, a railroad cut greenway, and Sloss Furnace? Each space offers a unique experience but is tied together by a post-industrial theme and design. The Stockyard's purposeful use of old and new imagery identifies Birmingham's steel city roots as prologue to its exciting future. The linear nature of the greenway allows for visitors to stop-by any single part or stroll through all of them together. The Stockyard is both a destination in itself and a multiplier for a great system of destinations.

Architects and builders have begun repurposing such containers around the world to create residential, commercial and retail environments. Due to heavy supply, containers can be purchased from most port cities at affordable rates and can be adapted to warm climates through use of green roofs, reflective paint, and HVAC units. Even with these adaptations container building is often cheaper than conventional methods. The technology and design skill is not ubiquitous but is available and affordable. Creative fundraising with logistics companies could even result in donated containers further decreasing construction costs.

Public projects are often as difficult to sustain as they are to build. The Stockyard addresses this by turning the space into a source of regular leasing income. Upon completion The Stockyard would be turned over to the management of the Railroad Park Foundation and all resulting income would be used to sustain both projects. Management could choose to outsource property management duties to a professional manager for a fee. In addition to leasing income, management could hold some of the spaces to offer services such as bike rentals for further income to the park. The Stockyard's flexible leasing arrangements and steel construction would provide multiple options for innovative revenue generating ideas and ensure that it can change over time and allow it to become a public space intertwined with the landscape of Birmingham's revitalized urban core.

What makes a space worthy of return visits isn't flash or publicity. It is the idea that the experience changes. Either the physical content changes as in an art museum or great restaurant, or the people change such as in a park or bar. The Stockyard is designed to do both. Unlike a park, which changes little physically from visit to visit, the Stockyard uses creative short-term leases to encourage a healthy turnover of content within many container spaces. In the spring or summer a visitor can be treated to a flower shop or buy organic produce, while in the winter he can grab hot chocolate for his walk through Railroad Park. This turnover along with the public plaza design will encourage the oldest of public pastimes, people watching. The attraction of shopping malls and busy public streets is the traditional desire to interact with diverse people. The Stockyard will have public seating in the interior courtyard for visitors to sit and enjoy an ice cream cone or café mocha while watching Birmingham pass through from Railroad Park to the rest of the city. In addition to the regular turnover of uses, the small interchangeable spaces will encourage short-term collaborative uses that can draw increased activity. Examples of this usage would be several artists renting several containers for a two-week art show, area retailers renting containers during the holidays for a pop-up shopping mall, or local chefs conducting cooking demonstrations during Birmingham Restaurant Week.

By using innovative green building technology to create a visually inspiring and adaptable space, The Stockyard provides a spark for residents of Birmingham to create a space they are proud of. Often large public projects or urban renewal schemes try to dictate what a space should be without proper consideration of what residents want for their community. The Stockyard is intentionally adaptable to encourage public input and ownership. This ownership can and will be felt by users of all ages and backgrounds.

Right now in Birmingham, the next great artist, chef, or inventor may be looking for a space to take a chance on their future. The Stockyard provides an incubator for innovation and small businesses by using flexible leases, while also demonstrating cutting edge ideas in design, construction, and leasing strategies. The opportunity to observe this innovation occurring in real-time will draw visitors and encourage even more creativity. Additionally the cultural shift to supporting local business will appeal to those wanting to invest in their community. Visitors would include consumers looking for unique gifts, architecture students studying innovative applications of sustainable building technology, children in awe of a human-scale Lego city, visiting executives looking for an exciting city to expand to, and those of us wishing to observe all of the above.

And now you're thinking…"who wouldn't want to go to The Stockyard?"