If we pay enough attention to the ordinary, we see the extraordinary. The shipping container is an accidental icon of our modern age: the eight-foot-by-forty-foot corrugated steel box that brings the world to our doorstep. It brings all our hearts’ desires’, available for purchase. And it brings us complicity in the global supply chains, and all the economic, ecological, technological, and political systems that forge those chains, as those great container ships link maker and user, buyer and seller, China and America together across the vast distances of the lawless sea. The design studio LOT-EK is a visionary practice at the intersection of art and architecture, that specializes in upcycling, which is the art and science of repurposing, remaking, rethinking, reimagining. Of using old things in new ways. The shipping container is the thing that has captured their imagination for over a quarter-century: they have remade containers into homes, schools, galleries, libraries, and more. With hundreds of millions of obsolete and unused containers around the world, this is a new and necessary architecture of the future, that repairs and regenerates the unnatural environment that we have inherited from the past. WE START WITH THE THINGS WE FIND is a feature-length documentary of this vision, and of the soulful lifelong partnership of the people, designers Ada Tolla and Giuseppe Lignano, behind it.

WE START WITH THE THINGS WE FIND shows us a way to be radically optimistic, creative, and constructive during times that can feel the opposite of all that. Director Thomas Piper’s acclaimed documentary feature Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf showed how the wild and unfavored plants could encourage audiences to live more responsibly with nature, and now he looks at living more smartly and sweetly with the effects of industry, infrastructure, and technology. Taking us from spark-filled workshops to a container ship sea voyage over a shimmering sea; and explaining all the prosaic and poetic design thinking behind how LOT-EK brings the container to life, the film shows how all we have can become all we need, how resourceful subsistence can feel like beautiful abundance, and how to keep going when we now know there is no such thing as a fresh start. The film is a humanist essay not only about a new kind of design thinking, but about a new design for life.



LOAD IN / LOAD OUT at the Chicago Architecture Bienniale

LOAD IN / LOAD OUT is a staging area and stage for a theatre: LOT-EK THEATRE FOR ONE (T41), a spatially one-to-one environmental drawing for a deployable object that shelters a socially one-to-one performative experience. As a staging area the installation servicesthe T41, a two-person performer/audiencer environment upcycled from “roadcase” musical/technical instrument case components, designed for deployment at urban sites (theater deserts) to catalyze intimately public performance art.

As a stage, the installation documents and contextualizes the T41 when it is deployed away from the Biennial gallery into Chicago communities. Jerry-rigged monitors, cameras obscura upcycled fromdelivery boxes, locate the project within LOT-EK’s body of research and design, and within their URBAN SCAN enquiry into the critical noticing and radical repurposing of abundant infrastructural artifacts, addressing and sheltering unrealized cultural, social, residential, and political occupations.

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Chicago Architecture Biennial︎


Client: Socrates Sculpture Park
Type: Art & Education
Location: Queens, New York
Size: 2640 SF
Design: 2016
Structure: Silman
Mechanical: JFK&M
Civil: Langan
AWARD: NYC Public Design Commission - 2017 Award for Excellence in Design

LOT-EK’s innovative design underscores the Park’s history of reclamation and revitalization, along with its mission of presenting contemporary public art, fostering environmental stewardship, and building community. The structure that has become The Cubes began its existence as a commission by The Whitney Museum of American Art. Then a 720 square foot structure, it comprised six shipping containers and housed the museum’s education programs in an annex sensitively installed into the museum’s famous “moat” at its former Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue. When the Whitney was planning its new home on Gansevoort Street, the Museum offered the structure as a donation to Socrates Sculpture Park. This extraordinary opportunity led to our expansion plan: to adapt the containers and fulfill the Park’s strategic and programmatic goals—including the creation of its first indoor space. Socrates Sculpture Park already utilizes shipping containers in an adapted reuse vision throughout our park, as equipment and material storage units for open air artist studios and education areas.

LOT-EK’s architectural concept has expanded and evolved the original design for the Whitney commission by adding twelve additional shipping containers for a total of eighteen, now stacked on two levels to form a singular structure. Continuous diagonal bands of glass along the sides and roof of the structure provide natural light and transparency, offering building visitors a view of the landscape and skyline outside, and offering park visitors a view of activities inside. These linear chevron windows curate those views while reserving ample wall space within the building for indoor exhibitions. Their striking V-shapes mirror the structure of the steel artist shed located nearby.

Located at the main entrance of Socrates Sculpture Park at Vernon Boulevard, “The Cubes” will house the park’s administration and educational programs, and will be the first permanent structure in the Park’s thirty-year history. The new facility will include 2,640 square feet of interior space with a 960-square foot flexible multi-purpose area for  indoor education programming, housing classes of up to 70 children and teens. It will also accomodate indoor presentation of videos, drawings, photographs and process source materials by artists on view in the park; plus 1,200 square feet of permanent office and administration space that will secure the park’s long-term sustainability. Also included will be a 480 square-foot shaded deck area for outdoor classes and programming. The roof will be outfitted with solar panels to provide renewable energy and to perform  as a teaching tool for sustainable practices.

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Socrates Sculpture Park︎



Type: Art Exhibition
Location: San Francisco, CA
One 20-foot shipping container is cut into 29 pieces of different sizes and shapes. It is designated ‘out of service’. It is container number AKLU6022124. It was built in 2006. It is red. Its travel records, entirely typical of the almost inestimable 5 to 170 million shipping containers in the world, are mostly unknown. We know that over the past two years it has been in China, Singapore, Korea, Myanmar, and between those places, in international waters, on the lawless sea.

SPILL begins in response to the elusiveness and opacity of the shipping world. And to its excess. Our container has been vivisected or dissected – or cut apart or broken open – to incite pause. Its fragments are literally spilled: to welcome, to allow wondering, seating, connections and conversations, around them and in close proximity, as this completely mysterious object is now fully exposed to all.

Cuts that favor the 90-degree moments of the containers create leftovers that are simply propped up and steadied to be used and occupied. The entirety of the container is utilized—a moment of awareness and recognition; and celebrated—the ingenuity of the object and system, its essential simplicity in endless transformation.

SPILL invites proximity and intimacy. Of people with one another, And between those people, individually or collectively, with the shipping container as an object: now so very close, so very small, and so very accessible.
A set of projections, also mined from existing imagery, displays and uncovers the relentless repetition of container ports along the shorelines of our planet. With their fantastic geometries and geographies. With their violence to the richest ecology on Earth, found always at the threshold of ground and water.
We notice. We celebrate. We ruminate. We are surprised, shipwrecked, joyful, outbound, abroad, aboard, overboard, at sea, off course, and on alert.


Ada Tolla, Giuseppe Lignano, Hector Song, Reza Zia, Romain Dubettier, Tala Salman, Virginie Stolz, Francesco Lagioia, with the contribution of Sanober Khan, Thomas de Monchaux and Marci Pei.

Our work on the container ports is accompanied by a collective recording. Reflections of personal experiences of the threshold between ground and water from around the planet are interspersed with data on shipping and its environmental impact.

We thank our friends who shared their stories:

Vasudha Karnani / Goa, India + Barcelona, Spain
Andrea Lagioia / Parma, Italy
Francesco Lagioia / Stromboli, Italy
Irmak Turanli / Istanbul, Turkey
Tala Salman / Beirut, Lebanon
Patricia Anahory / Cabo Verde + Atlantic Ocean
Farouk Kwaning / Tema, Ghana
Maliyamungu Muhande / Democratic Republic of Congo
Sumayya Valley / Johannesburg, South Africa
Omar Badriek / Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Usman Iqbal / Karachi, Pakistan
Rizwan Khan / Banaras, India
Praditi Singh / Mumbai, India
Thomas de Monchaux / Sidney, Australia
Hector Song / Tianjin, China
Hein Song / Busan, South Korea
Peter Miller / Seattle, Washington, USA
Devina Deo / Hayward, California, USA
Melanie Ide / Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
Inés Yupanqui / Bogotá, Columbia
Daniela Beraun / Lima, Peru
Agustina Capurro / Montevideo, Uruguay
Pedro Rivera / Rio de Janeiro + Belém do Pará, Brazil
Clare Walsh / Yarmouth, Maine
Manaal Farooqi / Kuwait + New Brunswick, Canada

Marci Pei
Napkin Poetry Review
Miles Petersen / Hosfelt Gallery
and courtesy of LOT-EK

BMarko Structures for their support and for letting us use their shop to do the work

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Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco︎