Sculptor unveils design for Edinburgh building made from 30 shipping containers

The proposed building design.
The proposed building design.
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David Mach, the celebrated Scottish sculptor behind the “Big Heids” beside the M8 motorway, has unveiled a design for his first ever building - a new arts, events and conference venue made out of more than 30 shipping containers for a £500 million development on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

The Fife-born artist, famed for making work out of matches, tyres, magazines and coat hangers, has revealed he used dozens of boxes of Bacofoil to create the design of “Mach 1,” which will be around 50ft tall at its highest point.

Artist David Mach

Artist David Mach

Mach has compared the building, which will boast its own cafe-bar, to the “piles of rocks” he recalls from the Fife coastline he was brought up beside, as well as the Inca ruins that can be found in the Peruvian jungle.

The building, which will have around 3500 sq ft of floor space, could open by the spring of next year if planning permission is secured for a vacant site next to the Edinburgh Park Central tram stop.

It is hoped music, comedy and poetry nights will be regularly held at the building, which will have a capacity of more than 140 and will be act as a marketing suite for a new “city quarter” being pursued by developer Parabola, which would create 1800 homes and more than 7000 jobs on a 43-acre site. The same company is joining forces with drinks giant Diaego to turn the former House of Fraser department store on Princes Street into a mew Johnnie Walker visitor centre.

In an exclusive interview, Mach said: “I was already working with Pangolin on a few ideas with shipping containers when this opportunity came up. I seem to have become an accidental architect with this, which I’m sure architects will have something to say about. But it’s not a pretend thing - it’s a real piece of architecture.

“Shipping containers are really interesting to me architecturally. They are really honest and are also really familiar to people. They also go all over the world. But this will be different to anything else that has been built of them before, which is what you really want as an artist.

“We’re still working out whether every bit of it will be from real shipping containers, but it will have to look as if they are all real containers and it will be very strong. You should be able to drive a tank over it.

“I think people will look at it and think they have seen it before, like a king of Inca thing you’d find hacking your way through the jungle.”

The Turner Prize nominee got involved in the Edinburgh development after starting to work with the London-based gallery Pangolin, which is part of Kings Place, a seven-storey development created by Parabola which combines office space with music and visual arts venues.

Mach added: “When I knew what Parabola was after I made a basic model out of Bacofoil boxes. I bought the whole lot at Sainsbury’s. I’ve still got enough to last me about 20 years!

“I don’t really need a super-model. I just started fooling around imagining the kind of spaces you could create inside the building. I never work with computers. I always think they limit your imagination.

“I can already see the building having a very interesting life. I actually hope it’ll become a great venue for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in future.”

Mach is joining forces with London-based architects Dixon Jones to create the building, which will be available to hire when it is not in used by the developers, who are due to begin work on the first phase of their project within weeks.

Tony Hordon, managing director of Parabola, said: “The initial brief we gave David was for a space to showcase the development and also allow functions to take place. But we didn’t just want any old space - we wanted something a bit different, that makes a real impact and a statement.”

Parabola founder Peter Millican said: “David Mach’s vision of this unique installation perfectly tunes with Parabola’s ambition for a bold and exciting quarter of the city which marries exemplar design and innovation to deliver a new place in the city rich in art and culture, with world class public space.”