Boxing not so clever

If a shop ‘pops up’ then one imagines it will pop down again pretty soon - after Christmas, say, which is the peak period for such temporary stores. But in the case of the new Boxpark in London’s uber-trendy Shoreditch – described as ‘the world’s first pop-up mall’, it’s there for five years. Assuming enough people go there to buy stuff.

It’s a two-storey assemblage of modified black-painted shipping containers – each container a little shop or cafe. Architects are Waugh Thistleton, the client is entrepreneurial retailer and brandsmith Roger Wade, the land is owned by developers Hammerson and Ballymore. It lies alongside the raised viaduct and Shoreditch High Street station of the new Overground line, which smashed through what was previously the derelict Shoreditch goods yard, leaving tracts of developable land. Directly opposite is the creative-industries hub of Derwent London’s Tea Building, part of which is the Shoreditch House club and hotel. The clothes and the haircuts round here tell you that this is Trend Central. So do the brands represented – allegedly indie, but with some very mainstream names included such as Nike and Diesel. 

At ground level the containers are set end-on to the street, making a sequence of small shop fronts, each with a pair of metal-framed glass doors. On the timber deck above, given over to food outlets, they run the other way, parallel with the street, in clusters: apart from an alley running down the middle, the open space is given over to built-in wooden tables and benches. These are elevated food courts - though on the cold, windy Monday I visited, it was deserted and the cafe owners were looking a bit desperate. 

Given its five-year licence, all the usual building requirements had to be met, such as disabled access to the upper deck: a small bolt-on lift at the back does the trick. Fit-out was done by the individual retailers who also had to insulate them to the relevant standards. (Sprayfoam was one option used). There are main drains and toilets. There is neat LED lighting, plus discreet security cameras and a patrolling guard. But its temporary nature is certainly given away when you get round the back and look at the mess of storage containers, aircon units and Heath Robinson ductwork.

It’s ingenious, and being a long strip building it gives back the lost edge of the street at this point. But it can’t get away from the essential problem: the chosen module is a shipping container, and the proportions of these always feel wrong to me. Too narrow, too low, and in this configuration too deep and dark. But full marks for finding a use for an otherwise empty site: as we head back into recession we shall need more ideas like this. 

I await with interest (funding permitting) the next short-life building to arrive nearby: Ellis-Miller Architects’ “Hackney House” media and business centre for the Olympics. It will use the railway viaduct as its roof, and NOT deploy shipping containers.