Shipping Containers & Shopping: London’s ‘Retail Revolution’ Finally Opens


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London’s first pop-up shopping mall has finally opened, after originally being slated for a Summer launch. Located in east London, at the intersection of Bethnal Green Road and Shoreditch High Street, ‘Boxpark’ is made entirely from reused shipping containers and has been called a ‘retail revolution’ by its owners. I paid a visit last week to see if it lives up to this ambitious statement.

Regular visitors to This Big City (with a really good memory) may recall that I wrote about Boxpark in March this year as it was still in the planning stage. At that time, Boxpark was proudly proclaiming that no high street retailers would be located in the complex, helping to retain east London’s traditionally independent and creative edge. However, whilst there is no Topshop or H&M, it is far from a ‘hight street free’ zone, with a significant proportion of the development’s tenants being names you could easily find anywhere in London. Is this the global economic downturn striking once again? With a few empty shipping containers remaining in the complex even after selling its soul to major international fashion brands, ditching the high street was obviously not economically viable.

Let’s not complain for the sake of complaining, though. Put simply, Boxpark is AWESOME. Located on a formerly unused patch of land in a busy part of the city, this mass of shipping containers certainly adds something unique to the streetscape, especially with the box-like London Overground line passing alongside it.

The development is split across two levels, with the ground floor housing fashion brands. The short end of each shipping container faces the street, with most shops having to be quite imaginative about how they get a decent stock selection in such a small space.

Whilst a few units remain empty, there are some new openings planned for 2012, including a 5-container Nike store at the eastern end of the development. However, with a proposed life of 5 years, there is plenty of time for Boxpark to find its feet and for those few remaining empty units to find tenants.

On the first floor, food and drinks venues serve a large outdoor seating areas. This would have been great for its proposed summer opening, though, unsurprisingly, people aren’t so keen to sit outdoors in London in December.

This upstairs area, however, is where Boxpark could really find its purpose. As the weather improves, there is no shortage of hipsters looking for a flat white or an outdoor beer in east London, and a range of venues and plenty of seating could make the upper level a more ‘go-to’ location than the fashion-heavy ground floor below.

Visually, Boxpark is a wonderful addition to east London. It is unlike any other development in the city, and sits beautifully next to the industrial (read: budget) design of the London Overground Line behind it. Sure, they may have sacrificed a few of their ideals to get it to market, but considering the vast expanse of gravel that preceded the development, it’s a positive change. They also do a mean flat white.

Images courtesy of wirewiping on flickr (yours were so much better than the ones I took)

  • Chris

    Hi there this big city, just thought I would drop you a quick line to let you know that the 5 East end containers by Shoreditch highstreet arnt empty at all. Currently there is a major shop fit taking place in these units to create a very special one of a kind Nike project, it also links to the 4 containers on the first floor that are labeled Nike, keep your eyes peeled for mid February as this is the proposed opening date!

    Even though the shops may be bigger brands than perhaps first suggested, they are, as you said, not your traditional high street brands like new look and Primark, they are more like the kind of shops you find as a concession inside a department store. When is the last time you saw a Luke, Palladium Boots, Irregular Choice or Playful Promises?
    I agree, all in all it is an exciting and successful project.