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Due to being inexpensive and readily available, shipping containers are often used for building affordable housing for the less fortunate. This was recently proven by the Johannesburg, South Africa firm Architecture for a change (A4AC) who used shipping containers to construct a school and community center Malawi. The structure is also capable of operating independent of the grid, since it is equipped with a rainwater harvesting system and a solar power array.

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The Legson Kayira Community Center and Primary School, as the complex is called, measures 4,090 square feet (380 square meters). The designers kept the structure very simple. It is made up of two classrooms and a large central courtyard, along with some bleachers. The school primarily educates children, though the building also houses an adult training center.

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Since insulation is one of the main concerns when using shipping containers as building blocks, the architects needed to find a solution, which would work in the hot climate of South Africa. They opted for a covered canopy-type design, which features a larger covered area that provides shade, as well as open, well-lit and well-ventilated spaces.

The shipping containers used were per-fabricated off-site at A4AC’s workshop in South Africa, and then transported to Malawi. The shipping containers used are supported by a lightweight steel supporting frame and roof. Some of the sides of the containers were also removed and replaced by louvered walls, which further aids in the natural ventilation.

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Also, the classroom doors can be opened on a hinge, which again aids ventilation, as well as make sit possible to turn an indoor space into a semi-outdoor space if needed. To block out the sun and provide shade, designers used netting. Water is recycled via channels in the sloping roof and kept in water storage tanks. The school is also fitted with a rooftop mounted solar power array, which harvests enough power to provide indoor lighting, and serve all the other power needs of the school.

The school took only about eight weeks to complete. Also, it was designed in such a way that additional shipping containers can be added to expand it, should the need arise. This is yet another great thing about using shipping containers as building blocks.

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