In New York, New Zealand-born entrepreneur Angus Vail has developed a mobile, pop-up art gallery – the ArtBloc – constructed from repurposed shipping containers, as part of a scheme that will eventually see him build an entire theatre in the same design as Shakespeare’s Globe.

Such temporary buildings are increasingly becoming a part of the architectural landscape, as urbancentres experience the inevitable effects of dramatic population growth, climate change or natural disasters.

Designers and architects are responding to this need for cheap, portable structures that can be rapidly erected to provide immediate shelter. As the movement progresses, others are considering the less tangible benefits a building offers for the urban fabric and the community that uses it, and recognising thata temporary structure in an otherwise empty space can fill an immediate social, cultural and morale-building need.

After the earthquake that decimated the New Zealand city of Christchurch, there was Shigeru Ban’s paper cathedral; in Berlin, Werner Aisslinger’s temporary, modular Loftcube made use of the city’s unused rooftops.

Reused shipping containers have also proved particularly popular. Not only are they durably constructed and watertight, but their dimensions are suitable for human needs, and their rough, industrial aesthetic seems to encapsulate the current design zeitgeist.

The ArtBloc – as Vail has christened the gallery project – comprises two interlocking containers thatopenon one side. The side openings have steel frames, removable aluminium panels and floor-to-ceiling lexan hurricane-proof windows that allow the portable structure to be opened up or closed off completely, depending on the exhibition. A sprung dance floor can also be assembled at the front, creating an instant platform or stage for performances.

With the side windows in place, the containers are closed and secure. “Since we can set up windows on the side of the container, we could have it closed up, but people would still be able to look in and view the artwork inside,” says Vail. “Or we could set up videos that play on the inside of the windows, and use the ArtBloc as a big light-box at night.”

The ArtBloc will have its first outing in Jersey City this May, after – somewhat ironically – the havoc wrought by Hurricane Sandy last October flooded the marina in Far Rockaway where it was stored.

Release, a temporary, site-specific installation by artists Charlotte Becket and Roger Sayre will take the form of an atmospheric phenomenon – a large burst of smoke discharged hourly by industrial smoke machines inside the ArtBloc. Intended to evoke images of Yellowstone National Park’s geyser, Old Faithful, in the urban context of Jersey City’s Hamilton Square, the installation is deliberately synthetic and strange.

The point underscored by the use of the battered, empty shipping containers: according to the release: “portents of danger in a post-9/11 world scarred by acts of domestic and foreign terrorism”.

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