Container architecture is not 'the future of architecture, ' Kenneth Powell concludes at the end of his review of ABK's Riverside Building at Trinity Buoy Wharf in east London (see pages 27-37). Certainly it isn't. The idea of seeing the country covered in piles of adapted containers is as unattractive as it is unfeasible. But both Peter Ahrends of ABK and Eric Reynolds of Urban Space Management, the driving force behind the project, are con-dent that it is an attractive solution that could be used more widely.
One of the appeals is economic.Containers are frequently dumped because 'for a lot of people they are disposable packaging, ' says Reynolds. Since the UK is a net importer of goods, there is often nothing to put in the containers for the return journey. Although the price of second-hand containers has risen steeply over the course of the developments at Trinity Buoy Wharf, Reynolds does not believe that this is a steady trend. Instead, he says, containers are a commodity whose price uctuates with supply and the scrap price of steel. The importance of cheapness in our overheated housing market is that it allows responsible developers to provide higher space standards for those at the lower end of the market than new-build housing.
Both Reynolds and Ahrends see potential for containers to be used on small infill sites on lost backlands, in addition to relatively large schemes such as Trinity Buoy Wharf.
In visual terms, there is the appeal both of the found object and of the discipline of repeating units. As Reynolds says, the towers of Canary Wharf, opposite Trinity Buoy Wharf, are essentially a series of stacked boxes. If these seem too restrictive, think of the alternatives. Alex Wright's entertaining review of Jonathan Bell's book 21st Century House (see page 45) points out that too much of what is being designed today is gruesome. Widespread adoption of container architecture certainly seems preferable.