Shipping Containers, as many have argued, have long been emblematic of globalized capitalism. The invention of containers radically changed the global economy, allowing goods to be seamlessly transported across land and water. They, therefore, came to signify the prowess of transnational corporations; their command over space and time. The ‘black box’ structure of containers, which hides their contents from view, alienated individuals from the details of trade, making knowledge of the global economy a preserve of these global players.
The containers we see in cities today, however, are far from black boxes, they are customized and decorated by the small businesses that occupy them, mirroring the craft that takes place within them and signaling a more intimate relationship between producer and consumer.
But with this shift in iconography comes a shift in economic responsibility. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, large banks and companies were bailed out while blame and responsibility were shifted onto individuals. The rise of the customized container as a space for craft and artisan businesses reflects and enables this changing understanding of responsibility. They are occupied by self-starting entrepreneurs, committed not only to their own businesses but to rejuvenating the spaces that their containers temporarily occupy. The up-cycling and customization of second-hand containers signify a redistribution of the burden for economic recovery, as individuals literally take on the task of fixing up, and making money out of these relics of global capitalism.