Trucks carrying containers
When was the last time you were driving behind a truck carrying a container?
→ inside← all of these containers ?
Where do they come from? Where do they go?
The standard twenty-foot container is the
basic measurement for worldwide shipping and trade today.
source: DEDOLA, 2011
It was introduced in
1961 as ISO/TC 104 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). *
source: ISO, 2020
792M TEUs are shipped in one year *
source: World Bank, 2018
A look into history
Before this normed and uniformed system existed, shipping freight used to be a
labor intensive, expensive and risky business.
The main problem was that each piece of cargo had to be loaded on a ship individually and each piece had its
Longshoremen on a New York dock
loading barrels of corn syrup,
Lewis Hine, c. 1912
We haven’t seen much change over the centuries, and even the dock working culture in the 1950s and 60s still struggled with the
same old problems.
Diversity of cargo goods of the Kipling on its way from Cardiff to Liverpool and Glasgow, 1960. *
source: Kemp & Young, 1971
Everything changed with the introduction of the normed system of
intermodal container logistics that is still in use today.
4 Scaling up
world exports skyrocketed and a competitive game of mechanization, standardization and massive economies of scale evolved.
METTE MAERSK container ship sailing
under Danish flag. Constructed in 2015 with a capacity of 18,000 TEU.
Exports all over the world today are more than
40 times larger than in 1913.
This whole process of extraordinary growth and scale on an international level has exploded over the last centuries and can be referred to as
International trade growth from 1800–2014 measured in the value of global exports. *
Time series of value of world exports at constant prices, relative to 1913. Values correspond to world export volumes indexed at 1913 = 100.
source: Federico and Tena-Junguito, 2016
The three major
container trade routes — Trans-Pacific, Europe-Asia-Europe and Transatlantic — are controlled by a small number of key players.
Their competitive race of arms produces bigger and bigger container ships each year with capacities of almost
24.000 TEUs per trip today.
Estimated container throughput on major trade routes in million TEUs, 2019.
→ Trans-Pacific 30M
→ Europe-Asia-Europe 25M
→ Translatlantic 8M *
source: UNCTAD, 2019
Leading container ship operators in 2020, based on the number of ships in their fleets. *
source: Alphaliner, 2020
5 The East
Redistribution of global power
This also resulted in an increased overseas trade of the
West with the East. China suddenly rose as a major global player by offering cheap production methods for the West.
Over a short period of time
China manifested as a new industrial super power.
Countries with the most TEUs passing through their ports in 2017 from land to sea and vice versa. *
source: Worldbank, 2017
But what is
all of these
A look inside the box
Port of Montreal handled a total of 1,447,566 TEUs in 2016.
They carried a range of products from food and fresh produce to electronic equipment and paper.
anything and everything that we use or consume in our daily lives.
Types of goods moved in containers through the Port of Montreal in 2016. *
Moved goods measured in tonnes.
source: Port of Montreal, 2016
90% of the things surrounding you have been transported in a container *
source: Shipping container (Craig Martin), 2016
Anything you use, buy, consume — even the
device you are watching this documentary on — was
part of a worldwide logistical network of intermodal transport.
Containers have become part of our lives and culture. They are
used and repurposed in many ways.
Architectural container structures in Belfast,
United Kingdom and Copenhagen, Denmark.
Next time you see a container driving in front of you on a truck, think of it as one piece in a
massive worldwide logistical system of transport, sales, economy and consumption.
Think of the container as a
parable. Think of it as a physical manifestation.
physical manifestation of our globalized world.
sources & further reading
Printed & online publications
Giovanni, Federico, and Tena-Junguito, Antonio.
A tale of two globalizations: gains from trade and openness 1800-2010. London, Centre for Economic Policy Research, 2016.
Giovanni, Federico, and Tena-Junguito, Antonio.
Working Papers in Economic History. Carlos III University of Madrid, Figuerola Institute of Social Sciences History, 2016. https://e-archivo.uc3m.es/bitstream/handle/10016/22354/wh1602.pdf?sequence=1
Kemp, J. F. and Young, P..
Notes on Cargo Work.
London: Stanford Maritime, 1971.
The Box: How the Shipping Container
Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger. Princeton, New Jersey / Woodstock, Oxfordshire: Princeton University Press, 2006.
Object lessons: shipping container.
New York / London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. https://www.bloomsbury.com/us/shipping-container-9781501303142/
UK Department for Transport.
UK Port Freight Statistics: 2019. 2020. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/908558/port-freight-statistics-2019.pdf
United Nations (UNCTAD).
Review of Maritime Transport 2019. New York: United Nations Publications, 2019. https://unctad.org/system/files/official-document/rmt2019_en.pdf
Online sources & data archives
All websites accessed Jan 21, 2021.
(Mauri, M., Elli, T., Caviglia, G., Uboldi, G., & Azzi, M.)
Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague
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116 93 Praha 1
©Nahuel Gerth 2021, all rights reserved.
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