A BUNCH of discarded shipping containers is being upcycled in Joburg’s northern suburb of Windsor, to create the city’s first shipping container multistorey building.

“By using an existing container module as part of the construction process it reduces the amount of resources being taken out of the environment,” explains Arthur Blake, a consulting engineer and the managing director of Citiq Property Developers, the company involved in the upcycling. This means that the building is being constructed with a “greater environmental conscience”.

Jika Properties, the biggest owner of residential property in Windsor, which has invested about R1-billion in residential property development in Gauteng, appointed Citiq, one of its subsidiaries, for the construction.

Reusing obsolete shipping containers to build hotels, hostels, clinics and community centres is a growing trend in countries like China, Holland, the United Kingdom and the United States. A 12-storey container hotel was built next to Heathrow Airport in London; locally, a student hostel in Simon’s Town, in Cape Town, was built with 40 shipping containers.

Upcycling means “using a product in its original form without melting it down to create a new product”. “It vastly reduces the building’s carbon footprint and uses much less of the earth’s valuable resources,” adds Blake.

Shipping containers become obsolete when they are no longer 100 percent seaworthy, but are still strong and usable.

Durable steel

“Steel shipping containers are manufactured from cor-ten steel, a group of steel alloys that were developed to eliminate the need for painting,” says Citiq. “The containers form a stable rust-like appearance if exposed to the weather for several years … In the protected environment [in which] they are now used they will last for many generations, and hopefully change the face of affordable housing in the future.”

The complex, in Countesses Avenue, joins numerous other blocks of flats in the traditionally working class suburb. It will cater for those earning about R13 000 a month, and so can afford the monthly rental of between R3 500 and R4 200.

“With this new development we hope to lead the way in showing that alternative methods of construction can be successfully implemented to construct houses and other buildings that can supplement conventional brick and mortar construction methods to speed up the delivery of affordable housing,” explains Blake.

But it’s more than that: “Moreover, the high density potential of container apartments makes them ideally suited to providing accommodation within city limits, enabling people to live within easy proximity to their places of work.” Once complete, the steel container shell will not be visible.

To build the three-storey complex, 21 steel containers, each measuring 2,5 metres by 12 metres, are being used, to create 15 units. Each unit can easily house a compact three-bedroomed flat, with kitchen, single toilet, bathroom with toilet and shower, combined dining room and lounge, and a small verandah. Two of the bedrooms have generous bay windows. The unit measures 56m2, with the main bedroom measuring 11m2. Two-bedroomed units measure 48m2.


The cost of building each unit is about R5 000 a square metre, compared to up to R8 000 a square metre for a similar brick and mortar flat. “This is value-for-cost housing,” says Blake. Each container costs about R33 000, including delivery to the building site. “The result is something that is liveable and acceptable.”

And by making use of something that is already manufactured, there are enormous cost-saving implications for a country with a huge housing backlog. A second advantage is the speed of construction, at three months compared to the conventional 18 months for a similar building. “The basic structure went up in three days,” he confirms.

The external walls will be insulated with 80mm thick polystyrene and plastered with 35mm thick plaster before being painted. The wiring and plumbing easily fits into groves in the container walls, so no chasing of walls is needed, another cost- and time-saving measure, explains Blake.

Holes for windows and doors will be cut, and steel windows will be fitted. The floors will be tiled, and prepaid electricity meters will be installed.

Green features will be a heat pump with a 5 000-litre hot water storage tank on the roof of the building. Operating like an air-conditioning system but in reverse, water will be heated and sent through the building, supplying each unit with hot water. The polystyrene walls will have insulating properties.

In addition, rain water will be collected and used to water the gardens. The roof will be greened with shrubs around a recreational area and braai.


Blake says at first the Windsor community was up in arms when residents saw containers being moved on to the site. Local newspapers reported on the creation of a “containerville”. He admits the company didn’t consult the community because it didn’t think twice about the use of the unusual materials.

“We didn’t engage because we thought it was normal.” His research revealed that containers were being used successfully around the world. Besides, once complete, the building will look exactly like its neighbouring blocks of flats in Countesses Avenue.

It took some persuasion but eventually the Windsor community was won over, realising that the development will add value to other properties in the suburb. There was also resistance in the city council, and the company had to persuade the building inspector of the practicality of the construction method. Once convinced, the plans were passed readily.

Journey of exploration

“This has been a journey of exploration,” says architect and urban designer Michael Hart, whose firm’s design was chosen from seven that submitted proposals.

“People are generally optimistic and look forward to evaluate if container modules can be successfully used in construction to complement brick and mortar construction in the supply of fast and cost-effective affordable housing,” adds Blake.

Single shipping containers can be seen around Joburg, where they have been converted into spazas and Vodacom shops, crèches and classrooms, but so far a container building of several storeys has not yet been built in the city.

“The material is beautiful, absolutely beautiful,” says Hart. “It is a fun project.”

The complex in Windsor is due to be completed at the end of July. In other unusual work, Jika is converting obsolete silos in Newtown to flats.

Source: Joburg.org.za