In the wintertime, Nils Clausen restores classic vessels in his boatyard. In the summer, he breathes new life into overseas shipping containers.
At the beginning of April, the last boats depart from his boat-building yard in the Berlin suburb of Oberschöneweide. As of then, it is time to admire these stylish beauties in and around Berlin. During the winter months — and with tender, loving care — Nils Clausen and his team of experts manually refurbish classic and historic motor boats and yachts and give them a mirror finish.
However, his boat-building hall with a 200,000 square meters of floor space does not remain empty for long. Mid-April sees the arrival of the first 40-foot shipping containers, coming from Hamburg, Rotterdam or Stettin. They have one thing in common with the elegant vessels that previously graced the hall: Nils Clausen and his specialists transform these rectangular steel giants into extraordinary eye-catchers for use at exhibitions and events.
Turning old into new
When one of his friends — an architect and former university classmate — inquired as to whether he could convert several shipping containers simultaneously in his boatyard, Nils Clausen was enthusiastic at the notion. “Sustainability is important to me,” explains the founder of this boat-building enterprise. His mission statement: to create something enduring and of value in these fast-moving times. And why should this apply solely to boats? The infrastructure was already available. With a crane, big forklifts and hoisting gear, you can move marine containers just as easily as boats. The whole idea of container architecture was an appealing challenge to Clausen, who himself studied architecture before turning his passion for vessels into a full-time profession.
This was how the first project began in 2010. A multi-functional office structure made up of 14 containers for the Bread & Butter Trade Show in Berlin was an unusual and trendy novelty. “I am not interested in building conventional exhibit booths. Buying new material, erecting something to last for three days, and then dismantling and disposing of it — that’s not my idea of sustainability,” explains Clausen, who was born in Kiel, Germany, and grew up in the Dutch town of Leiden. In his view, old and beautiful boats are the cultural heritage of a maritime past, and they deserve to be looked after and preserved. He focuses on conservation and his notion of “turning old things into new things” with this second business sector, too.
Stylish environmental protection
“Turning scrap containers into buildings is not a new idea,” states Clausen. No matter where you look — in London, Seoul, Christchurch or Amsterdam — container architecture is hip, modern and eco-friendly. This boat-building company designs containers to meet customers’ individual requirements. Electric wiring, plumbing, air conditioning, elegant interior decorating — everything is possible. Clausen has the necessary specialists at hand. “Working on boats and containers is fundamentally similar, it’s just that everything on boats is rounded and everything in containers is rectangular,” he explains.
In addition to structures that have a “short life span” for events and exhibitions, and which are repeatedly redesigned and used for various other applications, Clausen and his team have also completed long-term projects such as the Platoon Kunsthalle (an exhibition gallery in Berlin). 34 stacked shipping containers are now home to Berlin’s “artistic sub-culture” for two years. “It’s great to see how — within a short period — you can turn a fairly ugly commodity into something that is both en vogue and sustainable,” says Nils Clausen. It is just like the boats. Stylish design and top-quality workmanship will never become disposable goods.
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This article was first published in summer 2013.