As the pandemic has starkly revealed, we are beholden to a global economic system, whose icon is the shipping container, now seen ubiquitously piled in towering stacks onboard backed up megaships. LOT-EK, one of the most visionary and beloved architecture studios, has, for more than 30 years, been reimagining the shipping container, along with other detritus of our industrialized economy, as the materials for unique architectural and artistic spaces. Purely through creative pursuit, they have become prophets of adaptive reuse, ecological construction, and unexpected beauty. WE START WITH THE THINGS WE FIND is a feature-length investigation of their provocative practice in the context of our hyper-consumptive society.

LOT-EK’s worldview has never been more necessary, and the documentary, weaving parallel examinations of LOT-EK’s container projects and the global shipping trade, never more timely. Poetically threading economic, ecological and aesthetic viewpoints together with the dynamism of sparks flying and cranes spinning, WE START WITH THE THINGS WE FIND is not a fatalist lament or idealized fantasy, instead offering a positive and constructive way forward.  In a time when our obsession with the replaceable, disposable and instantly delivered has so clearly failed us, LOT-EK inspires us to see the magnificence in cherishing our resources.



Thomas Piper is the director of UP↑CYCLE.

Thomas Piper is an award-winning filmmaker specialized in documenting contemporary artists and designers. His most recent film, Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf, won the 2018 Polly Krakora Award for Artistry in Film from the DC Environmental Film Festival, and is still in global theatrical release. His film, Ellsworth Kelly: Fragments, won Best Film for Television at the prestigious International Festival of Films on Art (FIFA) in Montreal.

In addition, he has directed, photographed and/or edited more than 25 other films on painters, sculptors, photographers, architects, and writers. Subjects have included the artists Kiki Smith, Sol LeWitt, Alex Katz, Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brancusi, the writer James Salter and poet Billy Collins, the art historian Vincent Scully, the architects Peter Eisenman, Steven Holl, Jean Nouvel and Thom Mayne, and the only architects to win MacArthur “genius” grants, Jeanne Gang and Diller + Scofidio.

Five Seasons film poster

Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf

2016 ‧ Documentary
Diller Scofidio + Renfro film poster

Diller Scofidio + Renfro: Reimagining Lincoln Center and the High Line

2012 ‧ Documentary
Sol Lewitt film poster

Sol LeWitt: Wall Drawings

2010 ‧ Documentary
Ellsworth Kelly Fragments film poster

Ellsworth Kelly: Fragments

2007 ‧ Documentary


Photo of LOT-EK team.

Ada Tolla and Giuseppe Lignano have Masters Degrees in Architecture and Urban Design from the Universita’ di Napoli, Italy (1989). After graduating they completed post-graduate studies at Columbia University, New York (1990-1991) as Visiting Scholars. They founded LOT-EK in Naples, Italy in 1993 and opened up LOT-EK’s New York studio in 1995. Besides heading their professional practice, they also teach at Columbia University, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation in New York, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture and Planning in Cambridge, MA.

LOT-EK is an award-winning architectural design studio renowned in the architecture/design/art world for its sustainable and innovative approach to construction, materials and space through the upcycling of existing industrial objects and systems. Their work has been exhibited in major museums, including MoMA, the Whitney Museum, the Walker Art Center, the Guggenheim and the MAXXI.

LOT-EK's Carroll House

Carroll House

Single family home in Brooklyn, NY
    LOT-EK's Drivelines project


    Largest structure made out of shipping containers
      LOT-EK's Qiyun Mountain

      Qiyun Mountain Camp

      Extreme sports and adventure park in China
        Shipping containers await their use in a LOT-EK project.

        Container Assemblies

        Shipping Containers shot in Napoli Port, Italy


          Sherri Wolf is a long-time educator and currently an English teacher and English Department Head at the Brearley School, where she teaches an elective in South African Literature. She received her Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University and her BA in English from Yale College. Fascinated by narrative and narrative structure, she has taught film at Hunter College and serves on the Board of the Educational Video Center, which empowers youth by teaching them to tell their own stories through documentary filmmaking. Since the day she met Ada Tolla and Giuseppe Lignano, the founding partners of LOT-EK, in 1997, she has been inspired by their work and creative vision.


          Jorge Fontanez headshot

          Jorge Fontanez

          thomas demonchaux headshot

          Thomas de Monchaux

            Marques Mcclary headshot

            Marques McClary

              SUPPORT OUR WORK

              We have partnered with Aubin Pictures, a 501(c)3 organization, which acts as a fiscal sponsor to our project. All proceeds support WE START WITH THE THINGS WE FIND.

              Donations are 100% tax deductible.

              Donor and Thank You Credits

              Very special thanks to our donors that have supported WE START WITH THE THINGS WE FIND.

              Amy Bernstein
              Amy Cappellazzo & Joanne Rosen
              Andrea Rosen
              Beth Rudin DeWoody
              Caryn Wechsler
              Connie Hansen & Russell Peacock
              David de Rothschild
              Elise Jaffe & Jeffrey Brown
              Franco Avella
              Greg Miller
              Joanne Cassullo
              Janina Quint & David Leiber
              Joe Lovett & Jim Cottrell
              Karen Ranucci
              Leonardo Bonanni & Family
              Marc Robbins
              Maurice Russell & Jorge Fontanez
              Pam Jones and Craig Russell
              Sharon Davis
              Virginia Hatley
              William Floyd

              Thank You Credits

              Adam Weinberg
              Beth Rudin DeWoody
              Catherine Gund – Aubin Pictures
              Diego Pompeo – Autorita’ Portuale di Napoli
              Franco Avella – Integrated Industries
              Joe & Kim Carroll
              Jonathan Liebmann – Propertuity


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