The 'pop-up' is everywhere in London these days. In response to these tough economic times, empty shops, restaurants and gallery spaces are hosting temporary businesses or exhibitions for just a few months or weeks, even one night only. The emphasis is on the transient nature of these businesses, reflected by the materials with which they are created - there is typically a lot of unfinished wood, plastic serveware and a host of new staff who are not entirely sure how the till works. Often pop-ups appear in empty units next to fully-functioning stores or food outlets, but in Shoreditch (where else?) someone has taken the concept to a whole new level and established Boxpark - the world's first pop-up shopping mall.
Set against the stark concrete of Shoreditch overground station, Boxpark comprises two levels of black metal shipping containers, with bare board walkways running between them. At the top of metal fire escape-esque stairs, tiny cafes and restaurants occupy single or double containers on the upper level, selling everything from Mexican cuisine to macchiatos. A personal favourite coffee haunt of mine, Foxcroft & Ginger, who base their permanent bean-grinding establishment in Soho, have a couple of containers up here, with a full kitchen squeezed into one corner and stripey banquettes full of coffee-drinkers running the length of one wall. Long wooden picnic benches wait for customers brave enough to eat their tasty pies and salads outside, several storeys above road level, looking out across the roofs of East London.
Down below are clothes shops (Calvin Klein, Evisu, Levi's, Original Penguin, Vans and plenty more), a book shop, and purveyors of homewares and sunglasses. Each shop entices in shoppers with bright lights and imaginative store-dressing. Wood is a common theme, a simple and adaptable material echoing the temporary nature of the shopping mall. When a shop moves on all of its displays and storage can be ripped out and recycled, even turned into a shop somewhere else. Some units stand dark and empty, still waiting for a store or cafe to rent them, move in and make them beautiful for a short while.
As the Accidental friend with whom I'd mooched around Boxpark shrewdly, and with his tongue slightly in his cheek, observed "it's as if the identical shipping containers are making a point about the high streets all looking the same these days, with the same brands in every place." No one could accuse Boxpark of being quite like anywhere else however. So go and visit while you can, and do some shopping in a shipping crate. But go quick, before, like a fairy-ring, it's gone.