— 21 Mar 2017 by Lauren Furey
The shipping container was once just a practical and sturdy method of transporting large goods and bulk items across great distances but 21st century architecture has completely transformed their original purpose and breathed new life into the way both homes and businesses are run.
When Boxpark Shoreditch opened in 2011 it was the world's very first pop-up shopping mall. The idea was surprisingly simple - create a retail park made entirely from repurposed shipping containers. Boxpark's creator and CEO, Roger Wade, wanted to revitalise the world of high street shopping and bring fashion, culture and events under one roof and place it back where it belongs - on the streets.
"We should encourage the rebuilding of our high streets, the rebuilding of our urban centres, because they’re the heart and soul of the community" - Roger Wade
Roger was first inspired by the idea of using shipping containers as retail spaces when he travelled to Hong Kong to run a pop-up store with his fashion brand, Boxfresh.
Shipping containers had already found a strong foothold in the world of architecture. Their popularity was primarily attributed to their wide availability, relatively low cost and the fact that they aren't as environmentally harmful as traditional building materials. The fact that they're made of steel provides an obvious added bonus - they're plenty durable; these big ol' boxes can take a beating, come rain or shine. They're currently being used around the world to form workspaces, shopping centres and even homes!
The other major perk to these steel boxes? They're ultimately temporary constructions which is exactly how Boxpark came to be. Boxpark 1.0 occupies a vast majority of the site next to Shoreditch High Street station, just alongside Bethnal Green Road. Residents will likely remember that this area was due for redevelopment and while local authorities umm-ed and ahh-ed about what to do with the land, Boxpark provided a temporary and revolutionary solution.
The world's first pop-up retail space created both a flexible and robust environment for established and up-and-coming brands to sell their unique products and grow their businesses within a diverse and evolving neighbourhood.
The units at both Boxpark sites are leased to the traders that wish to occupy them. This means that business owners are able to determine the length of their term at Boxpark in order to establish their brand. Each container is retrofitted to the style and specs of the occupier. This means that Boxpark has always and will always be formed of fashion stores, creative spaces, novelty products, health and beauty products and food and drink.
If it fits, it sits.
Boxpark Croydon took the shipping container model to new levels when it came to bringing in some of the larger, well established brands like the Breakfast Club and MEATliquor. These restaurants are made of containers on top of containers. This has enabled traders to create a genuine restaurant feel. Honestly. Go inside and see for yourself. You won't believe you're in a cluster of steel boxes. Yumn is a superb example of this. Their entire restaurant aesthetic is more reflective of the fine-dining scene you'd come to expect from Croydon's popular restaurant quarter as opposed to the bustling area around East Croydon station.
96 shipping containers form the colossal body of Boxpark Croydon with, approximately, 61 containers currently occupying the Shoreditch site. This summer, Boxpark Shorditch undergoes a major upstairs makeover in order to make the events and dining space an appropriate setting for socialising in all weathers. Not bad for a 'temporary' space.
Many would say that, over the years, Boxpark has very much become a part of the fabric of the dynamic culture and atmosphere of Shoreditch. Its iconic black and white steel facade is often the first thing you see when you arrive in the area and that very same look now dominates the busiest stretch of pedestrian traffic in Croydon. Another London area that is evolving at a phenomenal rate.
So while the traditional retail model of large scale shopping centres and high streets stores is still prevalent in most towns and cities, Boxpark has shown that there's an alternative way for emerging businesses to thrive, as well as offering customers a unique shopping and dining experience. Box that up in just the right way and you'll find you also have a pretty solid events space too. Boxpark has spawned many imitators and shown that there's a whole lot more to those steel containers than meets the eye.