Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Shipping Container Hostel / School


Shipping Container Hostel
Client Simonstown High School
(Principle: Mr Jan de Vaal)
Consulting Engineers VKE (021) 469-9400
Architect Paul Cooper (021) 469-9499
Main Contractor Wayne's Custom Creations
Sub Contractor Leon Roman Building

The Simon's Town High School Hostel was completed in mid 1998 and was officially opened on the 30th November 1998 by Professor Kader Asmal, Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry.

This building is unique as the bulk of the building was constructed using recycled shipping containers. It is believed that this structure is the largest building in the world constructed primarily from containers. The project began with Safmarine's donation of 40 used shipping containers to the Simon's Town High School. VKE Engineers were called in as project facilitators with Paul Cooper as architectural consultant.

After consultation with the school, it was agreed to initiate the project in a spirit of openness and transparency. An advertisement in the local newspaper invited the submission of design proposals. The main criteria were that the school must accommodate 120 boarders and the budget was set at 1.3 million. Also to be included in the design was a 2 bedroom flat for the hostel manager and 2 flatlets for staff. All alternative forms of construction could be used.

A site meeting was held with 5 interested building contractors where everyone was briefed on the project.

At the opening of tender only VKE's proposal was submitted. The tender at this stage was three hundred thousand Rands less than the budget.


The design evolved around the use of the 40 shipping containers with the realisation that in order to accommodate 120 students further containers would be required or alternatively extra buildings could be built using conventional building methods. The concept evolved around a central core built using traditional brick and mortar as the wet services area housing the ablutions with the wings constructed out of containers to house the sleeping accommodation.

The design took advantage of the fantastic panoramic views from the site overlooking False Bay with covered balconies serving the dual function of circulation and outdoor living areas. Architectural expression borrowed from the surrounding Victorian architectures with large overhangs and hipped roofs. The style proved very successful in disguising the containers, as the roof structure became the dominant visual element of the building.


The awarding of the building contract posed a problem in that a builder was required who not only had traditional building skills but also skills in container conversions. Only one suitable contractor was found with experience in container conversion, but with limited building experience. The practical solution lay in the contract being awarded to the container converter with a subcontractor building the central core.

The building process started with the casting of concrete bases for each container. Due to limited access to site the containers were first converted prior to placement. This involved cutting out some intermediate walls and openings for windows and doors. Containers were then placed in position using portable cranes. No fixing was made to the concrete bases due to the extreme expansive properties of metal containers. The containers were then bolted together to function as one unit prior to derusting and treatment with a special anti-rust paint. A timber floor and timber windows and doors were fitted. Walls were clad internally in 12mm melamine board. Eaves were left open to facilitate ventilation.

Initial reaction from the surrounding property owners was one of horror on hearing that a container squatter camp was apparently being built on their doorstep. The result was a six month delay while it was debated whether the municipality has the legal right to approve an unorthodox building method without the consent of the community. This concern was possibly amplified at the construction stage when all containers were stacked three high prior to final painting. At this stage the building site had the appearance of a container depot!

The end product is a building that has proved aesthetically and functionally successful. The initial construction cost increased from 1 to R1,3 million due to changes and upgrading of the building finishes. Construction costs to the school worked out at one thousand one hundred Rand per m\2 , a substantial saving over a similar building built using conventional methods.

At the completion of the project the question must be asked - " Are containers a solution to low cost buildings?" I can only answer yes, provided the design is 2 storeys or higher as the major savings in such a building result mainly from savings in shuttering and speed of erection. This building will undergo a post-occupancy evalution over the next 5 years to evaluate the general performance of the construction method.


Each Sauna Box is site specific and custom built. 054. Simonstown High School Shipping Container Hostel. Paul Cooper. South Africa. Built in 1998 ...

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