Why Starbucks’ new store is made of trash and has no seats inside

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Chicago’s newest Starbucks is made of a bunch of old trash and fits together like pieces in a Tetris game.

Well, specifically (and in non-’80s-kid terms), it’s a prefabricated modular building made of recycled shipping containers.

There are four other shops in Starbucks’ “modern modular” line made of the recycled materials. The Chicago location was prefabricated and partially assembled at other locations, then trucked to the site and lowered by crane. Then, the pieces were attached (Jeff Sommers, principal at Chicago-based Square Root Architecture and Design, likens the fitting-together process of a prefab structure to Tetris). A Starbucks spokesperson said on-site assembly for the Chicago location took less than three weeks to complete after the components were on-site.

The new LEED-certified, 700-square-foot spot located at the southwest corner of Broadway and Devon has no interior seating, just an outdoor patio with bike racks, and drive-thru and walk-up windows to order. The space opened last week.

Starbucks may be using recycled materials, but the real savings likely come from the speed of construction, says Sommers, who has designed modular single-family residences. (Starbucks would not comment on the costs of recycled materials.)

“A lot of people think prefab costs less. I don’t think the construction actually does cost any less. It’s the time factor that saves you money,” Sommers says. “It’s the fact that you can set it on site and within maybe a quarter or half of the normal construction time, you’ve got an operating business.”

Sommers also says high-performance modular designs can save on energy.

“The buildings that I’m working on are all high-performance buildings, so for sure the homeowners are saving a few thousand dollars a year on the maintenance and utility costs.”

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