The recent implosion of DIY (do-it-yourself) urban architecture, which lends new function to old spaces by transforming those spaces into exciting venues, has arrived in Prague with Containall. Started by a young arts collective and based in Malá Strana, Containall occupies a courtyard next to the Franz Kafka Muzeum near the riverside. The repurposed container has become a unique open-air space, used simultaneously as a gallery for rotating exhibitions and, naturally, a bar.
It all started in NOLA
David Skala, one of Containall’s founders, first stumbled upon the use of containers as public spaces in New Orleans, during one of his many trips abroad. The containers first appeared there out of necessity, giving shelter to the victims of Hurricane Katerina. Later on, local urban activists incorporated them into the city landscape by turning the containers into boutiques and galleries.
Travelling to Germany and France, David saw that the idea had become quite popular in Europe as well. Charged with inspiration, he decided to launch the urban container movement in Prague – by bringing this one container to Prague’s contemporary denizens.
The initial plan was to place the container next to the metronome at Letná park. But Prague 6 officials made the process difficult, forcing David and his co-partners (Honza Faltys, Natálka Mohoritová, and Honza Stern) to deal with endless bureaucracy. After struggling for six months, they asked mayor Tomáš Hudeček for help, and in two weeks Containall got the space in Malá Strana. They opened on July 23.
Containall – one space for all
As is the case with urban projects, the architecture of the space defines its function. With only one container at their disposal the Containall team didn’t have a grand project, on the scale of London’s Container’s City I and II or Mexico’s Los Containers, in mind. Their goal was rather to create a unique common space for welcoming and hosting as many different projects as possible – which also explains the venue’s name.
True to the original idea Containall is evolving as a presentation space for local NGOs, with the first few months of its program this summer and fall centering around these NGO’s presentations, exhibitions, and connected events.
The program has seven thematic blocks, and each theme becomes a platform for one or several NGOs working in the same direction. Every block kicks off with an exhibition opening (each exhibition running for two weeks), discussions organized with the help of an NGO called AntroPOP and sometimes a movie night.
Cooperation with the NGOs defines the program: a lot of movies screened this summer were documentaries (One World Festival), as well as a number of Danish films (provided by Danish embassy in Prague).
As David stresses, although the space is given to the NGOs, this is not the only purpose of Containall – it is also a fun place, with DJ parties and concerts every Friday and Saturday, if it does not rain.
Between the walls
The “no rain” restriction influences the program, making it impossible to always stick to a plan. This requires a certain degree of mobility from Containall, and the space is will adapt to the changes – for instance, by the overlapping of the program themes.
When I met to talk with David in the early September, one of the container’s walls still featured the presentation of the urban gardening group Kokoza, who who had given a gardening workshop at Containall a few days prior. The opposite wall of the container was dedicated to the exhibition of one NGO that helps handicappd people, Ramus.
The following day Containall was organizing a related happening in cooperation with another NGO aimed at helping the handicapped, Asistence. By bringing several wheelchairs to the courtyard and lending them for everyone to try, they wanted to show how difficult it becomes for handicapped people to get around in a public space not adjusted to their needs. David says: “You can really feel what the problem is, when it is a challenge to simply get to the bar to order your drink.”
The third wall is sort of the face of the space. Located outside in the courtyard, it becomes Containall’s very own Lennon Wall, a space for art students or graffiti artist to express themselves.
Containall crowd blends locals, expats
One of the most memorable Containall happenings for David was on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, when these words were painted over the Containall outside wall. David believes that this speech from 1960s, talking about possible change in the future as it was seen than by King, is still very relevant and fits with what Containall is trying to accomplish with their project. Covering the front wall of the space for some time, these words could very well serve as the project’s motto.
David says that although majority of the regulars at Containall are locals, this place is ideal for any expat who wants to be part of the Prague community: “This is the place where young and most importantly active people come to meet.”
Winter is coming
The container is living a seasonal life, and David and his friends are looking forward to the winter break. With the weather getting colder, Containall has decided to close the outdoor bar for the rest of the month.
Right before it goes off-season in the end of October, Containall is organizing a unique event for their agenda – an indoors architectural exhibition Pokoje (Rooms). For this three-day long event on October 18-20 Containall got permission to occupy the building overlooking their courtyard which has been out of use for the past five years.
Pokoje is giving space to young architectural studios to present themselves, and about thirty studios are planning to present, including A1 Architects, Kolektiv, and Manua. The idea is to engage with the building in their presentation: “We would like them to play with the space and really create something,” says David.
For the duration of Pokoje, Containall will also run a café, cinema space, and organize discussions with experts on urbanism. After the winter Containall is likely to come back with more happenings up their sleeve. If it does not rain.