It’s not as if shipping containers immediately look like they have a story, but they always do. The Container Guide, created by Tim Hwang and Craig Cannon, exposes those stories by digging deep into the multi-layered world of container spotting (seriously).
We were fascinated, so we caught up with them to find out more.
Why shipping containers?
In an era of ever-more complex devices, it’s easy to forget that society depends on some really basic, really simple technologies. That’s just the thing with the shipping container: there’s not much more to it than a metal box of standardized height, width, and depth. Simultaneously, it has a pretty credible claim to being one of the most important (and ubiquitous) inventions of the last century. Shedding light on these unsung, unglamorous, but hugely significant aspects of modern infrastructure gets us excited.
How did you guys come up with the idea for The Container Guide?
We’re based out of San Francisco. The city sits next to the Port of Oakland, one of the busiest container ports in the world. The upshot of that is that you constantly see gigantic cargo ships moving in and out of the Bay carrying containers with names like Hapag-Lloyd, OOCL, and Maersk emblazoned on the side of them. The world of these corporations is fascinating: huge financial bets, globe-spanning alliances, and mind-bending complexity. That got us fascinated about creating a guide to exposing this world to a bigger public.
How did you get interested in shipping containers in the first place?
Tim had the good fortune of coming across and reading Marc Levinson’s The Box a few years ago, which recounts the rise of the shipping container in the most excruciating (and awesome) detail. Craig had recently read Rose George’s Ninety Percent of Everything and when we stumbled across a chart of shipping container color codes it ended up being the spark that led to an ever widening frontier of nerdy exploration on the shipping and logistics industry.
Is there a large community of shipping container enthusiasts?
Absolutely. There’s a long-standing community of infrastructure enthusiasts, trainspotters, aircraft spotters, and gongoozlers being just a few. The Container Guide is designed with them in mind, but built to be accessible to a broader audience of people who are just generally curious about containers and the corporations that run them.
The Container Guide seems like it’s also about encouraging a greater understanding of how the world works.
You’re absolutely right. The Container Guide grew out of The Bay Area Infrastructure Observatory, an informal group out here in San Francisco that conducts on-site tours of infrastructure in the region. We’ve been to bridges, power plants, water treatment centers, that sort of thing. We think it’s important that people learn about these huge, largely invisible systems that are usually churning away right below the surface of modern life. True to those origins, we’re hoping that The Container Guide launches in the same spirit that helps to make infrastructure more visible and understandable to anyone.
Are you fans of other field guides? Did you look at any for inspiration?
Huge fans. There’s a great and storied tradition of practical field guides that we’re hoping our project will follow in the footsteps of. Outside the Audubon guides, some favorites include Bowditch’s American Practical Navigator, Sears’ Woodcraft and Camping, and Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go.