Wednesday, 4 September 2013


Public art, Arenc, Marseille
There’s a school of thought that claims the invention of the shipping container did more to transform the world we inhabit then even the invention of the internet. There may be something in it when you consider that all the hardware that gives us access to the digital universe has made its way around the globe, buried deep inside a shipping container. Add to that the impact on world cities as port facilities migrated away from urban areas leaving vast tracts of development land in inconvenient locations. Plus the human cost when millions discovered their cargo handling skills were no longer required. The regeneration industry would hardly exist if it wasn’t for the shipping container. Europe’s largest regeneration project is in the former docklands of Marseille where this installation (above) serves as an affirmation of the instigator of all the urban upheaval. 

Manchester Ship Canal.
Sixties Minimalism, especially the immaculate constructions of Donald Judd, prepared us for the aesthetic contemplation of containers with their structural geometry, ribbed surfaces and industrial paint finishes. Stacked high on the waterfront in random arrangements they combine to offer an arresting visual experience to an audience raised on a diet of Modernist geometry courtesy of the Bauhaus or De Stijl. 

Boatyard at Gweek, Cornwall.
If you wish to own one yourself there’s a thriving market on eBay with a choice of life-expired 20ft. and 45ft. examples at prices between £500 and £1500. Not all are watertight and condition is everything. They may mostly be sought by business and young inner-city creatives but some end up in suburban gardens, transformed into workshops or storage facilities. My preference would be to install one in a vertical position with library shelving around the sides, a circular staircase to access the books and an Observatory on the top. 

Wreckage from the Napoli at Branscombe, Devon.

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