Policy

Little Boxes

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Friday fun link: a website "devoted to listing as many examples of people using shipping containers as architectural elements as I can find." Like this "mixed wood and container home":

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Or this retractable café:

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Or this enormous "makeshift mall" in Ukraine:

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That last one might not look impressive -- hey, it was closed at the time -- but the story behind the mall is pretty amazing:

[T]he last Soviet city fathers of Odessa expelled the pioneers in a previously unknown free market from the city, banishing them

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to a 10-acre spot seven kilometers, or about four miles, from the city's limits….That was in 1989, as the Soviet Union itself was unraveling, and what has since emerged is Europe's most extraordinary and, some say, largest market.

It now sprawls over 170 acres. The largest shopping center in the United States, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., covers 96 acres, though all comparisons end there.

The market is part third-world bazaar, part post-Soviet Wal-Mart, a place of unadulterated and largely unregulated capitalism where certain questions -- about salaries, rents, taxes or last names -- are generally met with suspicion.

Open every day but Friday, the market now has 16,000 traders or so and a central staff of 1,200, mostly security guards and janitors, making it the region's largest employer. An estimated 150,000 shoppers come each day, traveling in hundreds of buses from as far as Russia, more than 300 miles away, in search of the bargains that the evident avoidance of customs and taxes makes possible.

"Over the 15 years of its operation it has been called different things," the Ukrainian newsweekly Zerkalo Nedeli wrote in 2004, "but in fact it is a state within a state, with its own laws and rules. It has become a sinecure for the rich and a trade haven for the poor."

Teresa Nielsen Hayden has more on shipping container architecture here, and CNN tackles the topic here. Virginia Postrel praises shipping containers in general here. "As generic as the 1's and 0's of computer code, a container can hold just about anything, from coffee beans to cellphone components," Postrel writes. That ain't half of it.