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5th Sep 2022

Architect Africa Online

Africa's Leading Architecture Aggregator

Containers offer flexible living

Containers-style developments are certainly something to look to for the future if you are a property developer interested in low-cost housing innovations or looking for something unique


Just like Uber disrupted the transport industry, container companies have shown that you can repurpose containers into some beautifully designed properties many people now aspire to own. Shipping containers are now being used for student apartments, ways to solve the housing crisis and even for high-end luxury modular micro-dwellings ideal for the millennial generation. The introduction of flat-pack containers into the market has also changed the way these containers can be used as they are a more versatile option. “The potential for these new types of containers is really up to the imagination of the client,” says Kashief Schroeder, owner and co-founder of Container Intermodal Trading (CIT). “But some popular uses we have seen in the past include on-site offices.” This makes them ideal for real estate developers and for on-site property sales agents.

Kashief Schroeder, owner and co-founder of Container Intermodal Trading (CIT)

These flat-pack containers are made from insulated flame retardant sandwich polystyrene panels, they require no changes and once on-site they are ideal for hot summers and cold winter nights. These containers are normally between 20cm and 30cm higher than general-purpose storage containers which allows for bigger furniture and fittings such as ceiling shelves. Due to the increased height you can also include bunk beds, which makes them perfect for family vacations. These flat-pack containers are also ideal for vacation homes as they can be built to order, which makes them a flexible solution. There is also a short-term option with which you can simply rent them, from standard sizes to different types of containers.

This is changing the landscape of rental property in the market. If you rent them you don’t have to worry about having to purchase a costly vacation home; you can just simply move on when you are finished using the flat-pack container. The locking mechanism on these containers is secure, so you don’t have to worry about any unwelcome guests spoiling your holiday vacation when you visit the coast in December. There is also much demand for containers and as such their price has increased. In 2020 a new 20-foot (about 6m) general purpose shipping or freight container cost $2,100 (R30,781) and in 2021 the price is $3,700 (R54,233) per container.

It is predicted the price will increase in 2022. This is why there is huge demand for pre-owned containers as they fit the budget of many property developers. These containers can become expensive as they have to be imported. There are opportunities for local companies to manufacture containers to supply to the local market. “It is a wonderful opportunity for us as South Africans to rethink our position and perhaps become more technically orientated, pour more resources into again becoming more manufacturing orientated and build a more diverse local economy that is not so reliant on imports for our survival,” says Schroeder. The clean line of these containers fits well with the modernist, minimal design trends we see now and there are opportunities for development in this sector.

Container design

“The trend is for more residential container developments in Europe and modular homes in the US. Modular housing solutions have been popular internationally for a while, but the South African market tends to be conservative and commercial loans for these builds can be hard to get,” says Schroeder. Schroeder also shares this advice: “If you are looking at a container for your next property investment be open-minded to begin with, good research is important, ask as many questions as you can before you purchase a unit and get good contractors who know their way around metal work.” Double story units are also easy to assemble and can save on contractor costs. Properties designed using containers are popping up across SA. You just might find them in the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and elsewhere in your neighbourhood.

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