Category Archives: containers

Out of the closet

Why does the humble wardrobe have so much appeal as a refuge, an escape to a different world even. From children’s stories like The Chronicles of Narnia or The Indian in the Cupboard, to farces and cartoons where everything from lovers to dead mothers are hidden in them, somehow wardrobes seem to be hotbeds of activity.

And it’s not all fictional. There was the story a few years back about the woman whose lover lived in the wardrobe, emerging one day to kill her husband and then in May this year there was the story of the Japanese man who found a homeless woman had moved into a closet in his house.

Perhaps our tendency to treat the wardrobe as a miniaturised house is an archetypal fantasy of having a nice safe nest, a fantasy that also plays out in cubby houses, tree houses, tiny buildings and caravans, Japanese tea houses even. It’s a sort of fantasy we fall into easily

and maybe that’s why Sydney artist Adam Norton‘s recent exhibition at Gallery9 was so appealing. His wardrobe, adaptively reused as a sort of inner space capsule had all the necessities for a long term hide away from the world.

All bodily functions are catered for, there is storage for food and water, as well as cooking and washing facilities.

There is even a periscope so that you can check if the coast is clear before getting out and stretching your legs.

The reading is admittedly of the most survivalist type but this is where theory and practice are synthesised into an entire lifestyle, and the clock, notebook and paper allow you to document the experience as well, thus creating a complete loop of self referentiality, so to speak.

It’s not as luxuriously roomy as the International Space Station

but it at least seems on a par with early US space capsules. Perhaps later versions will expand to fill the space available, a wardrobe as large as the room it stands in.

Of course there are more ways of hiding than hiding in a cupboard. Norton’s other works include suits for urban camouflage allowing the wearer to lie around inconspicuously in the urban outdoors or even hide within a map.

Well I’ll be a seagull!

Thanks to our reader Jeroen Harkes we now know that the “Redneck Mansion” is actually a set for the outdoor Theater het Amsterdam Bos. It seems so obvious in retrospect. It was designed by Catherina Scholten for the 2005 production of Anton Chekhov‘s Ivanov, his early play about a disillusioned young intellectual – surprise surprise – not unlike Chekhov himself – surprise surprise – who ultimately commits suicide – surprise surprise. But a great set and yet another example, if any was needed, of the creativity of Dutch design in recent times. And as Jeroen Harkes points out you can hardly say that something three years old is racing through the net. What was really racing was the use of the image as a pretext for vilifying the poor and the joke is now on everyone who was sneering when they saw it tagged as a “redneck mansion” (said with our most po faced look of disapproval, we are just sick of hearing about wealth as a measure of anything other than greed or good luck).

ope air theatre amsterdam ivanov by chekhov

There are more images of it on flickr now we know what we are looking for and we even found the source of the original, it’s by Elmer Kroese.

Rising in the world

redneck mansion trailer reuse

This image under the title Redneck Mansion is racing through the blogosphere faster than headlice through a kindergarten leaving a wake of vicious and patronising comments, as if rednecks had a monopoly on vulgarity. But it strikes us as an imaginative, witty and good fun bit of adaptive reuse, not at all vulgar – and probably fairly expensive to build. So yah boo sucks to the commenters who seem a more vulgar bunch of rednecks than whoever built this. But where is it? And where did the image originally come from?

Floating in a tin can

(Photo fitaloon)
You’ve made your gazillions and now you need somewhere to get away from it all, a place that’s safe and secure, secluded but not too far from civilisation? You like messing around in boats? Of course you own your own helicopter? Then have we got the place for a swashbuckler like you!

As The Independent says

This is no ordinary island. It is a floating fortress, built in the 1860s to defend Portsmouth from the French during the Napoleonic wars. And it’s for sale.

Their grasp of history might be a bit wonky but they know good real estate when they see it. It’s No Man’s Land Fort and it looks like a giant floating tin can because it is. It’s an adaptively reused floating sea fort off Portsmouth harbour in the UK. Built in 1867 and decommissioned about a century later it’s now converted into a 21 bedroom (with en-suites) residence. A snap at 4 million pounds although we suspect maintenance could be a bit pricey.

Street life

It’s one thing to write about converting 747s into mansions but ultimately that’s only for an extremely wealthy minority.

Homelessness is endemic throughout the world and in the US alone approximately 3.5 million people are estimated to experience homelessness at some point annually, a million of them children. Extremist right wing governments have exacerbated the problem by cutting back health and welfare funding to such an extent that in Los Angeles, for instance, impoverished hospital patients are regularly dumped on Skid Row, as captured on LA Police video below.

Homelessness itself has been criminalised in some cities and numerous attempts are made to make public spaces as uncongenial as possible for everyone except paying consumers.

Check out the anti-sit archives for numerous examples of inventive small-minded malevolence.

But there have been some interesting attempts to adapt and manipulate public spaces and street furniture to alleviate some of the problems of homelessness.

Australian architect Sean Godsell has adaptively reused both the park bench and

the bus shelter for use by the homeless. This flies in the face of the bureaucratic impulse to prevent the homeless from benefitting from any public facilities by putting armrests in the middle of benches, sloping the seats etc (warning: great architect, another crappy flash animated website).

Artist Michael Rakowitz‘s paraSITE proposes a parasitical adaptive reuse of waste heated air from air conditioning exhausts to inflate and warm a shelter.

It comes in several versions.

And although Lucy Orta‘s Refuge Wear is more artwork than practical she is attempting to blend and adapt our concepts of clothing and shelter into a practical unity.

The adaptive reuse of shipping containers is the bigger version of this type of homeless shelter and Sean Godsell’s Future Shack is a now famous example although it’s so good that anyone would want to live in it. But it’s time to face up to it, homeless and refugee shelter is going to be one of the big issues of the coming century.

Holiday house?

One of Lacaton & Vassal‘s neatest tricks is to cover the roof of a more conventional building with glasshouses to extend the amount of usable enclosed space.

Here is a project that combines shipping containers (yeah!) with plastic carports in a similar way to produce a beautiful and elegant remote rainforest research centre. It can be found on the Earth Science Australia site. We bitch about some websites (why are architects so in love with over-designed flash-animation-infested rubbish?) but this one is great, easy to navigate and full of interesting real content rather than designer confectionery.

Unnatural gardening

The sad saga of the Thomas Street, Box Hill garden that was posted on Lucazoid’s site got us looking at urban agriculture.

The residents had turned the entire backyard into an organic vegetable garden only to discover their landlord was a lawn lover who considered they had damaged the property. The whole garden had to be ripped out and the lawn replanted – not everyone appreciates the adaptive reuse of their lawn.

There is another great Australian urban gardening site here describing a garden near the centre of Bendigo.

Being a sports hater I particularly liked the argument against sport:

Industrial agriculture triumphs when it comes to eliminating labour costs. I have a simple answer to this: STOP PLAYING SPORT! Middle-class folks now spend five to twenty hours a week at the gym!!! Football players train twice a week and devote at least one day of their weekends to football. Convert this “labour” to gardening – end of labour problem.Three in ten hospital beds are taken up by victims of sports injuries! Sport is pointless, dangerous, mindless and unproductive and most sports, in fact, are nothing but training for warfare and perpetuate a militariastic culture. My panacea for the world’s ills is stop playing sport and take up gardening – then in future efficiency calculations count all labour hours as “recreation”.

Right on!!! And any reader naively thinking that carpet can be adaptively reused as a weed suppressor should check out the reasons his site is named half an acre of carpet.

But lawn-loving landlords notwithstanding, not everyone disapproves of urban farming, in fact some cities actively support it. And increasingly there are more technological versions of urban farming like this project to adapt a trailer as a glass house for hydroponic gardening.

But why stop at small scale efforts, think big! If cities are the problem why can’t they become the solution, that is the key to the adaptive reuse philosophy. Why not use city buildings for farming or even build skyscraper farms?

The Vertical Farm Project has been advocating the development of vertical farming technology and documenting all aspects of the concept, but we have an ingrained suspicion of high tech solutions to problems that are basically caused by human greed and that ultimately require socio-political solutions.

However, problems should also be looked at from all angles and often need more than one solution. Anyway, even combining office and farm in one building would be pretty good….why not adaptively reuse the city?

Nowhere to go but up

It’s natural for buildings to be extended up as population densities increase but the fake heritage attics that have become ubiquitous in Australia can be so boring that even the most inappropriate additions suddenly look appealing.

Some of the oddest upward renovations are the redundant San Diego tract houses, discussed by Teddy Cruz, that are trucked across the US-Mexican border to Tijuana where they often reappear as a dream castle in the air.

But much as I love that, the classiest over the top renovation that I have ever seen is by ecotech of California

and yet again it uses containers, the pre fab building unit of choice.

I can see these springing up all over the place and in many cases it’s a better solution than heritage fakery.

Container overload

I have mostly resisted writing about my favourite architects like LacatonVassal architectes or Adam Kalkin or the late great Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee but this week Sydney had a visit from Teddy Cruz. I want to write something about Teddy Cruz on the Open Source Art School so I’ll just recommend you check out the link, but let’s look at some more containers instead.

The first thing I ever saw by Adam Kalkin was Bunny Lane,

a building so beautiful

and so perfect in its way that it was a bit too much, in the same way that Phillip Johnson’s very minimal Glass House demonstrates that less can really be too more. They are both swoon architecture liable to induce Stendhal syndrome. I was relieved but not surprised to later discover that Kalkin does a great line in containers

and is much exercised by political and economic questions. And to top it all off he even has a sense of humour – the catalogue for his quikhouses has dinner cooked by him listed as an optional extra.

Anyway check out his website architecture and hygiene where you can get T-shirts, recipes, instructions on fitting facial prostheses and the opportunity to confess, as well as seeing some great architecture. It’s as much fun as you’ll get in this slowly sinking world.

Market solution

In Australia, the lackey country, politicians and other business rent-a-reptiles constantly parrot the dumbest US propaganda, eg that we can’t do anything about CO2 emissions because it would hurt the economy, as if we have a choice, as if we won’t be fried (along with our economy) by global warming as long as we ignore it. The same applies to recycling, renewable energy and sustainability in general.

Meanwhile, as our moribund capitalist dinosaurs resist reality, other countries have faced these issues. The result is that new products, new materials and above all innovative manufacturing techniques are being developed and the creativity of capitalism has been unleashed to solve the problems rather than create them. These new entrerprises may still be small, but 30 years ago Microsoft was a two person operation.

Take Freitag for instance. They make bags out of truck tarpaulins and other recycled materials. The bags are great, the website is the best online shop I’ve ever seen, but above all they have developed a way for you to design your own bag, making your own cuts from a tarpaulin.

The world won’t be saved by recycled bags, but it may be saved by new ways of doing things. And this is the way its going to go, consumer control of computerised maufacturing techniques through small scale high tech companies.

And now after a decade or so, Freitag have their own skyscraper, a new shop in Zurich that has made me break my ban on running stories about shipping containers. I first saw it on we make money not art (the worlds best blog, the Diderot’s Encyclopedie of our age), resisted mentioning it for a day then got an email from varp about it and finally had to succumb.