Dec 12, 2017 |

Text : Sanjeev Shrestha      Photo : Nicolas Marie

Container Architecture often referred to as Cargotecture, has been a revolution and has evidenced to be a flexible building typology worldwide. In Nepal, the use of these containers as a building material has grown exponentially over the past decade due to their inherent strength, wide availability at relatively low expense. As for Nepal, people have found its use for immediate emergency shelters, for offices setup, for residences or even for showrooms lately.

RS MOTO located in Gahanaapokhari, Naxal, Kathmandu opened in 2070 B.S. having a site area of about 5.4 ropanies, has been a commercial hub that has housed primarily a dedicated workshop for automotive restoration and customization and then a showroom for Araniko Skateboards and their other products. These days other brands such as Karma Coffee and their private enterprise RS Chaalaa has taken up the space too. The space is kept buzzing as the automotive workshop runs a restaurant within the compound.

Raajib Sayami, the founder of RS Moto has a bedsit in one of those containers. His residential cabin is a 20 feet x 8 feet container cleverly stacked over the same sized container where the bike workshop is. The cabin furnished with just the required setup for a bedroom has an attached bath that cantilevers to the north and enjoys a private balcony to the south. The bike workshop is aligned perpendicular to the upper box whose roof has created a beautiful deck that overlooks the courtyard formed by surrounding containers.

The space has a unique concept, well at least it was during the time it was constructed. The communal space attracts people of different taste and lifestyle during different occasions from book launches to outdoor concerts. The space is not based on some contemporary trend but a trend-setter. The space is mostly famous amongst locals and expats. Besides, it also depends on the person running it. The purpose it was built for is something new to the city. You don’t find someone restoring a bike for passion in every corner of the city. The concept has therefore become a hit in Town. Cargotecture has augmented in the valley lately.

Sited along Subarna Shamsher Marg, Gairidhara, Husqvarna Motorcycles Showroom deploys 40 feet long containers. The glazed facade takes up optimum area possible without harming the structure of the container. Another 40 feet long container placed against it at the back to enlarge the usable space. The design has tried to justify the industrial look and feel be it the walls of the container or the plumbing conduits for electrical lines that run through the space. North-South oriented blocks take lesser amount of heat from the sides in comparison to the roof. The roof is therefore insulated to cut down the heat and in turn the electric bills of AC.

The stacked 20 feet containers at the right of the showroom serves for storage and office spaces of Benelli Motorcycles Nepal. The zigzagged orientation is the result of skewed site and the existing structures within. These two brands share the same parent company KTM International Trading Pvt. Ltd. The space is open to public from 2017.

Nepal Communitere is other such project that has managed to use twelve 20 feet containers to comprise a space that houses Nepal’s Robotic Association workshop primarily and a training space. The communitere is basically an organization that provides aids during disasters and works for the community the other time. “Nepal Communitere Resource Center and Innovation Hub provides a space of creativity and innovation to sustainably rebuild, renew and develop Nepal by being a place that fosters creativity and connectivity, inspiring the Nepali and international development efforts.”

Containers have proven to be an economic way out to provide that large co-working space where technical students collaborate to innovate. The Northern block
is the hard workshop, the eastern block is the Training center for 20 students and the western block of the office for Robotics Association. The open planning of the blocks has proved to be dynamic in terms of functionality, meaning the space is flexible for any type of setup (offices, training setup, workshops, meeting halls etc.)

Three of the blocks are similar in terms of planning. Individual blocks feature two containers kept apart producing an ample amount of effective space overall. Containers are stacked likewise on top of them and accessed through stairs. The corrugated walls of the containers have been utilized to make roofs. This has significantly brought down the cost of the construction and is one effective way to deal with the cut parts of the containers. The containers have been painted light greyish to reflect as much heat possible. The heat drawn into the containers has been insulated internally to produce an inhabitable environment. The spaces that Nepal Communitere run are rentable for co-working purposes and trainings.

Niraj Joshi, a designer, notably a project manager and one of the cofounders of Metalwood Nepal/Metal Shaper talks about the Cargotecture in a brief interview.

Q. What is the idea behind using containers?
It's basically a client's decision to give an industrial look to the space if they require containers in their space. So, what we did for 3 of our projects is weigh the pros and cons of building a container like structure or using an actual container. For most of the cases the project budget comes out to be similar for both options. Therefore, opting for a container has always been a better idea due to look, modularity and flexibility (could be moved as required).

Q. What is the project construction time for space such as RS Moto?
It took about 4 months for RS Moto to build the structure with landscaping (front section - with courtyard). This included ordering containers to a logistic company and shipping the container to the site. Some clients already have containers with them and takes lesser time and hassle with the construction. As for space like
Nepal Communitere it takes about 6 months and the Husqvarna takes about a month. (This also depends on the design though.)

Q. What can be the main challenges during the construction?
If you talk about a general challenge, managing logistics to ship the container has always been a greatest deal when it came to using a container to build some space. We've thought about doing it long before in some other projects but was never implemented for the same cause. Building space using a container is not a rocket science. Foundations are and should be stable enough and levelled. In RS Moto, we've employed a stable plinth with 6 bricks in cement footings that raise 7 inches high from brick in cement plinth tied with RCC Beams to keep off from the moisture. 4 of the containers were deployed first and the rest 2 (that has the living cabin) was added later.

Since the idea of using shipping container as dwelling is new to Nepal, the main challenge is to work with people incomprehensive of the work process and the concept. Generally, the workers we work with in Nepal are not result oriented and hence situation is really difficult to cope with.

Q. What are the basic things to keep in mind while designing a space using container?
First thing is to think about the logistics. One should see if the containers they want to use can be transported to the site they have in mind, and is in good condition of course. It must have an easy access for the cranes and enough room to not disturb the neighbor. Then comes the technical part of like placement and foundations. These things have to be pre-planned because it becomes really expensive when it comes to working with the crane.

As the box is steel made one should think about the insulation (external or internal) and proper ventilation. It depends if it's for living purpose or for some commercial use where public flow is more. Basic engineering works for one or two stories and shall employ some kind of lock system in the corners for more than 2 stories.

Q. What is the difference in using a traditional material and using a container for constructions?
Designing material is all about the concept. Some has to be built and some are ready-made structures. Container is however predefined space but one can play a lot with it like a Lego Brick. There are advantages to it I'd like to point out. It's a sustainable structure as its low risk, earthquake resistant and mobile. If logistics are easy it can be an ideal building material as its fast to erect and economic too. The conventional building material are however easier to work with than the containers. Working with containers needs skilled manpower and a good supervision.

Sometimes it's economic to just use brick in cement structures when permanent structures are required because of its low maintenance characteristic and are more secured than containers. However, containers prove to be one of the best building typologies due to its high salvage value for long term temporary structures.

These projects have been an inspiration to many and given the designing company a recognition in designing spaces with such building typology. Metalwood Nepal has been designing and constructing other spaces with containers within the valley. RS Moto is a good example to people wondering about using a container for living purposes. Proper siting however has always played greater a role in success or failure of any kind of project besides its Architecture and planning.

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