A relatively new concept in Africa, the converted containers are a fraction of the price of conventional buildings.
Words: Rumbi Katedza
Photography: David Brazier & Between10&5
A relatively new concept in Africa, the converted containers are a fraction of the price of conventional buildings and are being used to create BoxParks and pop-up stores across the globe.
When the Zimbabwean cultural activist network Magamba decided to set up a shared working space for for its members, creative director Samm Farai Munro wanted it to be founded on an ethos of sustainable use of resources. Using shipping containers seemed an obvious choice for the people behind Moto Republik, the first fully-serviced creative hub in Zimbabwe.
In one corner of Moto Republik’s working space, a young designer pulls out sketches from her portfolio to share with an independent web designer who’s come to use the hub’s high-speed internet. A brisk conversation ensues about what they want to achieve and how they could collaborate.
Having opened its doors to the public in early August, Moto Republik has already become a hub for creative entrepreneurs looking to network, build ideas and grow their brands.
“For us, an important ethos behind Moto Republik was to recycle; shipping containers fit into that because it’s about reusing,” Munro says. “It’s also more affordable than brick and mortar, plus it’s funky and it’s different. There’s no place else that looks like this!”
Together with designer Angus Wakeling, Munro and his colleagues developed their dream office, which was constructed locally by Smart Building Solutions – all the work was done by local engineers and artisans.
Moto Republik is a double-storey structure that boasts an open plan co-working space, staff offices, a canteen and a rooftop garden. Four containers sit in a T-shape, seamlessly interlaced like a perfectly-balanced Lego tower. Instead of placing additional containers at the base of the structure, Munro opted to have the mid-section supported by concrete columns to ensure a free flow of air around the structure to the neighbouring building, which houses the hub’s conferencing facilities. The offices and shared working spaces are also fitted with air-conditioning to regulate the temperature when necessary.
Many of the container working and living spaces popping up across the continent are bold in their modular designs, to reflect the lifestyle of the people who use them.
In Senegal, African surf and youth culture brand Bantu Wax established a flagship retail space on the Dakar peninsula, complete with roof café, showroom and workshop. The distinctive container structure stands in contrast to the far more colonial architecture that pervades the city, and provides an active atmosphere that fits the Bantu Wax brand. The pop-up store has become a hangout spot for both locals and tourists attracted to its multicultural environment.
Further south, the eclectic industrial designs of converted containers in Johannesburg’s Maboneng Precinct and temporary Merchants on the Square in Sandton have created a new kind of shopping and entertainment experience with their pop-up stores. In the trendy suburb of Melville, Citiq Property Developers has created 27Boxes, the first BoxPark in South Africa.
In designing the retail complex, structural engineer and self-taught designer Arthur Blake consulted with residents and incorporated their desire to maintain the surrounding Faan Smit Park. “We fully restored the old play area, with paths for walks in the lush garden, and included the amphitheatre for community projects of an artistic nature. Above the amphitheatre is a walkway, also constructed with containers, where the community can have open-air meetings.”
The 27Boxes complex also has a Hobbit house constructed from three containers covered with soil and plants, from which visitors get an impressive view of the city.
Unlike London’s BoxPark, which was constructed by placing containers next to and on top of each other, 27Boxes was designed around three open-to-air courts with practical flow.
The 102 boxes that make up the complex are insulated, and the design, with a cover over the rooftop parking, walkways and overhangs that shade the units from the sun, contributes to temperature regulation. 27Boxes’ 80 shops vary from unique food designers to furniture designers.
While the fixed height and width of shipping containers may be limitations, Blake and his team overcame this by combining two or more containers in some instances. Height limitations were overcome by spacing containers apart from each other and using the space between them to create double- and triple-volume spaces.
“Visitors and designers from all over the world have visited 27Boxes and have marvelled at the layout, flow and the colour delight created with these humble boxes, which were designed to transport goods but have now become the place from which the goods are sold,” Blake says.