A Crisis of Conscience and Containers

In the wake up the economic, housing, and automaker crises, we find ourselves in he midst of a new global dilemma — enter: The Shipping Container Crisis. Yes, The Shipping Container Crisis. An NPR piece describes the ready-for-cinema story of complex personal relationships and interweaving lives (paging Paul Haggis…) affected by the lack of the globally standardized intermodal freight devices we’ve naively taken for granted for so long. From a farmer in South Dakota to a mother in Japan, no one is safe. Despite proof that global markets and economic factors are the cause, it seems pretty clear just who we really should be blaming — architects. Specifically, those architects who selfishly insist on working with the rapidly depleting natural resource that is the shipping container. How dare you, LOT-EK. How dare you MVRDV. And you, Adam Kalkin, with your indecently decadent portable Illy café…how. dare. you (But, um… that Yahoo airbag proposal is pretty damn cool. We would kind of like to see that one built!). No longer viewable as a mere alternative building block, the shipping container should—no, must!— be re-repurposed! Let’s close the galleries, offices, and quik houses. Moreover, we may need to appropriate trailer parks and ship our soy products overseas in the ephemeral communities! In the name of preserving our national economy, let us ship our grains in architecture!

&#183 A Strange Shortage Illustrates The Global Economy [NPR]
&#183 When Shipping Container Architecture Goes Bad… [Life Without Buildings]

When Shipping Container Architecture Goes Bad…Apocalypse Bad

[left image via LOT-EK, right via io9]

Shipping Container Architecture will not. go. away. MVRDV’s Container City and LOT-EK’s Mobile Dwelling Unit (above left) are two of the most famous examples, but the irrepressible Adam Kalkin and other makeshift shipping magnates continue to explore the possibilities of a cargo-friendly living — so much so that there was even talk of a shipping container shortage last summer! Enough is enough. And for the final nail in the coffin, see concept designer B. Börkur Eiríksson’s dark vision of a smoggy dystopic future where we’re all crammed into mile-high towers by colossal mobile crane systems. Continue reading “When Shipping Container Architecture Goes Bad…Apocalypse Bad”


This past Monday night, I attended a Lecture at my alma mata of Tulane University, given by Giuseppe Lignano and Ada Tolla of the New York based firm, LOT-EK. For those who aren’t familiar with LOT-EK, their work focuses on the reuse of prefabricated industrial components. With projects such as “Container Mall,” and the “Mobile Dwelling Unit, (MDU)” they are perhaps best known for their use of shipping containers, but they have also utilized cement mixers, airplane fuselages, oil tanks, and water towers.

The lecture itself was quite good. Short and entertaining. Giuseppe quickly flashed images of what inspired the duo – everything from electrical wires to pot holes to decaying brick buildings – while listing, alphabetically, in a robot-like monotone, the abstract ideas they associated with each image. Ms. Tolla would then describe the projects and the design process in her charming Transylvanian-like accent, while complementing her oratory with an array of dazzling animations and images.

What did I think? Well…they apparently really love just hanging out and watching t.v. No less than three of the presented projects were variations on media modules. Small, comfortable spaces wired with multiple televisions, computers, video games, speakers, and digitial projections. These became somewhat repetetive, as no new ideas were introduced, and the descriptions seemed to be along the lines of “…and then we put all that stuff in a cement mixer…then in an oil tanker…”

The large scale projects are undeniably impressive, but again, repetition dulled their impact. The Container Mall, the MDU city, and the Gorree Memorial are all insightful, beautiful proposals, but they could almost be the same project with a different label. I think using industrial components is an amazing idea, but at some point, the idea started began to seem less practical and more gimmicky.

Despite my distaste for the similarity among their work, I can respect that Giuseppe and Ada genuinely seem to be having fun with what they’re doing. I don’t think they’re trying to create a recognizable “LOT-EK brand,” but rather this is what they’re interested in and what they want to keep exploring. All the questions were answered with smiles, and an almost child-like excitement. Their attitude was inspiring.