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5 creative uses of shipping containers in South Africa

Johannes van Graan Johannes van Graan
The Outdoor Container Bar and Dining Space in Cape Town by Container Rental and Sales (Pty) Ltd Eclectic
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When it comes to architectural evolution, South Africa is also privy to trends and changes. The latest evidence is the lifestyle shift from gigantic abodes to downsized structures. This is especially true for millennials, who no longer seem to be searching for three-bedroom, two-bathroom builds that also flaunt a study, dining room and living area. 

The answer to their searches? A much smaller home that provides only the essentials and eco-friendly features. And that’s where container houses come in…

1. Why containers?

The popularity of old shipping containers being turned into homes only really picked up during the past few years (contrary to overseas, where it’s been trendy for quite some time). The added advantages include the fact that container homes are more affordable in a tough economy, are easier to maintain, plus don’t have the same major impact on the environment as traditionally built houses. 

But just like structures built out of bricks and mortar, so too do container homes have to comply with building regulations – thus, complete architectural plans still need council approval. However, these “restrictions” are not enough to deter the appeal of container structures, for a whole new world is possible with containers, from low-cost housing to schools and shopping centres.  

Have a look at this typical example of a container house that’s also perfectly prefabricated. It’s been fitted with a kitchen, bathroom, bed, gas geyser and stove, television, plus full electrical and solar system. It can easily be transported (via truck) to any location. And with its practical dimensions of 6 × 3 × 2.5 m / 14 m² (Length, Height, Width / Area) and price tag of R250,000, it is definitely a very desirable example of modern-day container houses.

Read more: What to know about container homes in South Africa

2. More than just houses

Exterior view by A4AC Architects Modern Iron/Steel
A4AC Architects

Exterior view

A4AC Architects

The functionality of containers is so diverse that it has exceeded the residential realm. Today, retail buildings (like cafés and restaurants) are also popping up seemingly everywhere that have been crafted out of unused shipping containers. 

Case in point, ‘Roast Republic Container’, a container coffee shop located in Johannesburg. Shipping containers form a crucial part of Roast-Republic's social franchise program, allowing previously disadvantaged individuals to apply and operate their own container coffee shop. This particular one, located in an office park on Empire Road, provides a layout of 6 × 2.6 × 2.4 m / 14 m² (Length, Height, Width / Area) and costs about R200,000.

In addition, shipping containers are also being used for swimming pools, portable ablution facilities, training structures, office containers, refrigeration containers, and storage spaces.

Read more: 9 things you should know before building a container home

3. An ideal solution for those less fortunate

Container - Mobile Dog Adoption Centre in Cape Town by Container Rental and Sales (Pty) Ltd Eclectic
Container Rental and Sales (Pty) Ltd

Container—Mobile Dog Adoption Centre in Cape Town

Container Rental and Sales (Pty) Ltd

But even though containers are making a difference in the commercial and retail industries (just see this container which has been turned into a mobile dog adoption centre in Cape Town), we can’t forget that their main form of use (housing) is what makes them stand out – especially for the millions of South Africans in need of proper homes.  

More than two million homes may have been built since 1994 (thanks to the government’s Reconstruction and Development Programme / RDP), yet there are still numerous families waiting for houses. This has resulted in various companies all over South Africa being innovative with low-cost housing solutions and opting for containers. Much faster to set up, quite sturdy and less costly than building RDP homes, container houses is the vital step that brings us closer to solving our country’s homelessness crisis. 

Another very appealing fact about container houses is that most of them can use alternative energy supplies such as solar panels, -geysers, and rainwater harvesting systems.

4. Container home professionals: Container Rental and Sales

One of the South African companies focusing on container structures is Cape Town’s Container Rental and Sales (Pty) Ltd. With more than 25 years’ experience in the shipping container market, these professionals specialise in the converting, hiring and selling of ISO containers.

Even though all container conversions are completed at their premises in Epping, container structures can be delivered anywhere – locally and internationally.  

Feast your eyes on one of their latest projects: a container bar and outdoor dining space located in Cape Town.

Read more: Cape Town’s new bar-and-dining container

5. Container home professionals: A4AC Architects

POD exterior Modern houses by A4AC Architects Modern
A4AC Architects

POD exterior

A4AC Architects

Another group of professionals that aim to promote container structures in South Africa is A4AC Architects. Located in Johannesburg, these experts’ portfolio showcase various projects completed throughout Africa. Their services include architectural design (for both new-builds and alteration/addition projects), the designing and building of container structures (as well as obtaining council approval), plus 3D modelling. 

This off-the-grid eco POD of theirs presents numerous green features including insulated walls, solar electricity, and rainwater harvesting. Its internal layout (which includes two bunk beds) comes to 3 × 3 × 3 m / 9 m² (Length, Height, Width / Area), and the total cost of this container is R50,000.

We think this is the perfect time to discover The best container house in the entire Johannesburg.

Would you consider living in a container house?
Modern houses by Casas inHAUS Modern

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