Social Container Architecture

Being the main facilitator of global exchange of commodities, hereby an important trigger of globalization, the ISO container has had an immense impact on transnational relations. Introduced for cargo handling in the shipping industry, containers have later grown increasingly popular as elements of architectural design. As construction material, their history of travels across the world might be of less importance, however, their flexibility is praised. As temporal objects their ability for re-use and recycling are valued.

Slovenian architect Jure Kotnik documents the history and use of containers as inhabitable built forms in his book Container Architecture. (He has promised a re-print). The book is claiming to contain representations of more than 6,000 containers composing all sorts of built typologies: from retail pavilions to public buildings.

A number of container projects have been made for branding purposes. One true strength of commercial value in such structures shows when they are located in public spaces. Often temporal structures, like these, are allowed on locations where building permits would otherwise not have been granted for permanent construction. However, temporality is in no way limited to small pavilions. A number of large-scale projects are listed, which seem to be very solid while still intended of being shipped around, as Shigeru Ban’s Papertainer museum in Seoul.

Through August an exhibition is held in Platoon in Berlin representing some of the works published in the book. Accompanying the exhibition a workshop was held on the future use and possibilities of containers as built forms. The workshop aimed at looking past commercial programs while identifying new uses for containers as architectural elements.

It is not by chance that our friends at Platoon are hosting the exhibition in Berlin, as Platoon has a core of container design in its backbone. “PLATOON.cultural development recruits creative task forces from its affiliated media over- and underground based on the nature of the projects”. Operations of this network of creatives is facilitated and coordinated from their headquarters in Berlin and Seoul. Platoon’s physical structures all consist of container architecture that already as such are a twist to purely commercial use, as Platoon aims for a fusion of profit-making and social activities.

Aiming towards social use of container architecture is indeed Erik Juul Architect’s project HomeLessHome. This recent project explores possibility of densification of a central urban space in Copenhagen through a temporal container structure built on a limited space. The building serves as shelter for homeless people and a space for social interaction.

The space was used for exploring various possibilities of new temporal urban typologies that can be utilized in sustainable ways on a limited budget. Through a hands-on approach the architects and builders were collaborating close on site with help from the homeless community. Among the events held in the structure were a demonstration of a communal kitchen preparing food in a limited space, and a workshop with children on architecture. Further, similar to the workshop held in Platoon, explorations were made of how new configurations of container architecture can be utilized in urban spaces.

HomeLessHome was built and exhibited in May and June at Den Frie Centre for Contemporary Art in Copenhagen. Jure Kotnik’s Container Architecture Exhibition is exhibited in Platoon, Berlin, throughout August. From there it travels to Vancouver in September.