Stewart Brand, working in a shipping container, from How Buildings Learn

My research library was in a shipping container twenty yards away–one of thirty rented out for self-storage. I got the steel 8-by-8-by-40-foot space for $250 a month and spent all of $1,000 fixing it up with white paint, cheap carpet, lights, an old couch, and raw plywood work surfaces and shelves. It was heaven. To go in there was to enter the book-in-progress–all the notes, tapes, 5×8 cards, photos, negatives, magazines, articles, 450 books, and other research oddments laid out by chapters or filed carefully.

I knew from editing Whole Earth Catalogs that the most important tool for organizing projects is lots of horizontal space and immediate-to-hand storage. Boat carpenter Peter Bailey built it cheap and sturdy. He told me I would regret using plywood for pinning up photos and other graphics on the walls, and he was right…

People asked, “How can you stand it in there without windows?” All I could say was “A library doesn’t need windows. A library is a window.” In February I was using the flat space to organize Chapter 12 with the 5×8 cards on which all the book’s raw research was taped. By this time I had followed Peter Bailey’s advice to have sheet steel on the walls, and little magnets holding up the photos.

Lots of horizontal space…

This reminds me so much of David Hockney’s work method for Secret Knowledge, how he pinned up the whole history of western painting on his studio wall:

hockney's wall

Read more on shipping container architecture and see my friend John T Unger’s plans for his studio made of shipping containers.

Filed under: lay it all out where you can look at it