Over the past five years, Austin’s Rainey Street district has transformed from a sleepy neighborhood into a vibrant drinking destination, with many of the street’s historic homes repurposed as bars and restaurants. Now, the area is entering into yet another new era as condo and hotel developers wipe out existing business for new construction, making the notion of building for longevity troublesome at best.


The interior of each container is unique, employing distinct finishes like MDF board and charred wood.

Austin, TX Program Multilevel bar
Size 2,115 ft2
Completion 2014
Certification Not applicable Cost $900,000

Design Consultants Hendley | Knowles Design Studio
Owner/Developer/General Contractor Dunlap ATX
Landscape Architect Land Interactive
Civil Engineer Big Red Dog
Structural Engineer MJ Structures
Welder Salinas Group

So when entrepreneur Bridget Dunlap set out to build her fourth bar in the neighborhood, she came up with the idea for a structure that would be relatively easy to disassemble and relocate should the property eventually be purchased: a bar made out of shipping containers. To execute her vision, Dunlap chose two Austin-based firms: North Arrow Studio and Hendley | Knowles Design Studio. Despite the goal of building for impermanence, the process was still intense: the aptly named Container Bar cost $900,000 and took three years to complete, finally opening its doors in early 2014.

The structure employs seven recycled shipping containers stacked into a two-story arrangement around a central courtyard. North Arrow architect Francisco Arredondo said the team aimed to leave the containers as intact as possible through the process, a choice that ended up posing unique challenges. “Construction-wise, the most challenging part of the process was working with a design where everything is exposed,” he says. “Everything is made out of steel—unlike framing walls with wood and having a chance to add layer upon layer to hide things.”

To keep the otherwise simple steel enclaves vibrant, engaging, and comfortable, six of the seven containers feature a different interior finish. “We were having some fun there,” Arredondo says. “In one of them, we created a pattern based on the bar’s logo and carved it into MDS panels. One has a super graphic of a winter scene we printed in vinyl, and another one has charred wood. They’re all different.”


Color plays a major role in enlivening the repurposed containers. Playful furniture continues this theme in the courtyard area.