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SA sets new building trend

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School hostel was the world’s biggest container structure.

The development of shipping containers in the 1950s transformed the face of the marine transport industry, but no-one realised at that time that it would eventually take the building scene by storm.

In 1998, when Simon’s Town High School needed a new hostel, Safmarine provided 40 used shipping containers which were adapted to accommodate 120 pupils. At the time the hostel was the largest shipping container building in the world.

“In recent years the shipping container, being both durable as well as climate resistant, has gained popularity within residential as well as commercial property,” says Leon Breytenbach, national manager of the Rawson Property Group’s commercial division. Multi-storey office and apartment structures are home to permanent occupants all over the world.

He says shipping containers offer a logical alternative to conventional commercial buildings. “Resembling large Lego blocks, they lend themselves to a simple, modular building design which may be combined with a variety of materials and an assortment of claddings to create attractive, trendy, yet efficient structures.”

Although some think of them as a cheaper method of construction, this is not necessarily so, says Breytenbach.

“Containers, being made of metal, are excellent conductors of heat or cold, requiring cladding as well as heating or cooling systems to make them habitable.” The buildings need similar or better finishes than a conventional structure, as well as professional fees and service costs, making them cost much the same as conventional buildings.

In the long term, however, containers should work out to be more economical for several reasons. They are durable and portable and allow fast-tracking of the building process, significantly reducing construction time.

“Buildings constructed from shipping containers bring a uniqueness to modern commercial property when they are skilfully designed, attractively appointed and favourably located; an attractive alternative for any discerning tenant,” says Breytenbach.

There is an ecological benefit as well. The United States alone, though re-using 75% of the containers it imports annually, still has a surplus of more than five million spare containers a year. If they were to be melted down for recycling they would use a vast quantity of electricity. By using them as building modules, they reduce the need for materials like clay bricks and timber.

“At the start of the container building industry the thought was they would be useful only in ghettos, providing sub-economic housing for the underprivileged, but this is certainly no longer the case,” says Breytenbach. “Enterprising designers, architects and engineers have joined forces to erect some amazing structures which can take their place proudly among conventional buildings.

“As an out-of-the-box solution to a commercial accommodation need, be it a spaza shop, a multi-storey office or a hotel, shipping containers are fulfilling a need for fast, easily maintained structures.”

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