Repurposed shipping containers create multi-family affordable housing in South Africa

On September 1, 2017, South African real estate developer Propertuity opened a very innovative residential project in Johannesburg. They’ve taken the site of an abandoned single-story automobile repair shop and turned it into multi-story affordable housing, constructed entirely of used shipping containers.

They call it Drivelines, a mixed-use residential and retail building. The fact that it’s made of up-cycled shipping containers is appropriate, since Johannesburg might be the world’s largest inland port and so has a vast inventory of used containers.

Situated along a main road axis, the building functions as a “billboard” that marks an entry to the ever growing Maboneng Precinct.

This isn’t their first project using a groundbreaking approach. Across Johannesburg, project after project has pushed the envelope, in terms of what it means to live and work in the city. With a focus on creating communities and improving urban spaces, it is gradually changing the norm through forward-thinking designs and alliances.

Drivelines is the first large-scale residential container development in South Africa. It’s thus setting an example for out-of-the-box urban thinking, which is urgently needed in a world where overpopulation, economic hardship, and environmental crisis are ubiquitous. Building sustainable, affordable housing that also strives to a higher aesthetic ideal has never been more timely.

These imperatives were the impetus for Drivelines, a project conceived and implemented together with award-winning New York City-based architecture firm and upcycling experts LOT-EK, which was founded by Giuseppe Lignano and Ada Tolla.

The design-forward project, which comprises a multi-level structure created using upcycled shipping containers and built over what was originally a one-story car repair shop, epitomises the spirit of regeneration, sustainability and collaboration that both Propertuity and LOT-EK embody.

It certainly serves as an example for other developers to emulate in the future. Having generated a lot of interest among the public already, it’s clearly speaking to an audience looking for an alternative style of living.

A particularly relevant application in South Africa, where the need for inexpensive building solutions has never been more pressing, Drivelines also illustrates the potential for responsible resource management and good design to converge in something really special.

The collaboration is powerful: LOT-EK is well versed in alternative building methods, and its innovative approach is a perfect match for Propertuity’s. “We share a very similar ‘raw’ vision of the contemporary urban environment,” comments Giuseppe.

This has translated into a cutting-edge design that created something desirable and useful out of industrial materials. “We hope it can help humanity in general – not just architects to look at something twice before they discard it or give it little or no value,” they explain.

Their strategy is to envision to recognize the aesthetic potential of the marginal, the raw, and the abandoned. Not being limited by convention is a principle that LOT-EK and Propertuity share, and one that’s enabling them to redefine both architectural and urban redevelopment norms.

Drivelines is geared towards young people looking for affordable housing, but who are discerning enough to want to live in quality spaces. The units are compact, but full of light and air, with large windows, each with its own outdoor space.

A rental-only redevelopment, it also reflects the need for temporary housing solutions, a huge market that Propertuity has recognised and is commited to serving.

Designed to encourage clever use of space and a contemporary aesthetic, it is also community centric – with the development aimed at encouraging residents to interact with one another, and the space, via open walkways and a central green area. “We wanted to create a happy, quiet place in the middle of Joburg’s crazy energy,” conludes Giuseppe.

See Propertuity website.

Watch 3-minute Drivelines video.

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