We pin Mark van Iterson down in Mexico to talks about his globe-trotting mobile mixology bar made from a shipping container shell.

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This summer, Wonderland got dusty in Mexico City to check out beer-behemoth Heineken’s new space-age drinky spot, the Pop-Up City Lounge. Being big fans of anarchic, sharply angular industrial design, we were thrilled to meet the brand’s Head of Design Mark van Iterson, who helped carve the globe-trotting mobile mixology bar out of a shipping container shell. Launched in four major cities including Warsaw and New York last year, Iterson walked us through its vaulting corrugated arks and conversation coves.

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Hi Mark. Take me through the basic idea behind the concept – when did it come about?

The very initial idea was actually by my boss – the global Heineken line director – after we had the basics of the brand design: one iconic bottle worldwide, the label, the glass, the can, the draught bottle. I spent three days at Milan Design Week, walking around. Funnily enough, it was even more than three days because that was the year that there was the volcanic eruption in Iceland. That’s when we came up with the concept of open design inspiration and developed the vision of making sure we create a creative playground. We wanted the designers to experiment and go wild. It’s tested to see how people react, to see how it works, see how the press reacts and then from there see if something works. Take it, sculpt it and make it better.

Interesting that the project started and ended at a Fashion Week. Where did you take the concept from there?

It was a couple of angles. We built the design and we employed some of our country teams, who would love to do it in our country in London. It turned out that the travel was extremely difficult. When we started the launch, we thought we should make sure from the start that it’s successful and it’s going to be easy to travel because then we can leverage it much better. I also came up with concept brainstorms on what we saw: lunching, beer, going out. High definition and futuristic was what we were designing, because we wanted to build a future vision. Then we would see this opposite “big brand” [idea] – a grungy, industrial, unpolished container. So the exterior and interiors of containers are full of old kegs and standing tables. We use cans and bottles for lights. We love that contrast and think it makes it more exciting and less polished.

Where did you source the materials for it? They are, are as you say, very gaudy and anti-luxe. 

We worked with a company that has experience in redoing containers, even bars made out of containers. A lot of the smaller stuff like the trays and coasters are printed. Initially everything was going to be [3D] printed, but printing can still be pretty slow and expensive and on this scale. The size makes it very, very difficult.

After tonight’s launch party, in conjunction with Mexico Fashion Week shows in the same building, where will you take the container?

After this we are very likely to go to France, then we will go to Taiwan. We have Puerto Rica lined up and Singapore and Columbia. We’re starting in super-hip cities with big fashion events. Then that will bring us to next year and maybe we’ll have our next concept.

How do you move it from place to place? How easy is this?

No, we have to pack it carefully. There’s a half-container where all the other pieces and the fridges go in. It takes one or two days.

Let’s get nerdy. Who are your favourite industrial designers, or designers who have shaped a brand’s packaging aesthetic?

I love very different styles and different inspirations; street art and fashion. I love Chanel, from a brand point of view they are still true to their core, to their DNA as to who Coco Chanel was. Chanel I think is brilliant: timeless, iconic, classic, and there’s a story there. It’s one of my inspirations because it’s beautiful, original art. With design, less is more: there is a power of simplicity in certain things. That’s why I think I think like a brand like Heineken: there’s a certain style element with the beer label, it’s very minimalistic. It’s a traditional label shape, but even within those restrictions we simplify it as much as possible. We never try to add more thrills or icons or gold. It’s very simple and pure. If you do minimalism right, it’s a masterpiece.


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