A shipping container classroom

The sun shade provides an air cushion against solar heating

Let’s be clear. The idea of recycling shipping containers as bespoke pieces of micro-architecture is by no means unique to Tsai Design Studio, but its Safmarine Container Project – real, built, and in use – is no less admirable as a result. The 39-foot long, 538-sq foot container is living a second life as a classroom for 5-6-year old pupils at the Vissershok School, Cape Town, South Africa.

The most radical addition to the container is a horizontal solar shade – an expansive second roof above the container preventing solar radiation directly arriving at the classroom’s outer surfaces thanks to the buffer of air between. This is an essential measure in warmer climbs as steel is an efficient conductor of heat. Were the building to be used at night it would probably have required extensive insulation too. Or colder climates.

Windows and doors are obviously a requirement, but windows have been added to both sides to allow the through-ventilation of the space.

Attention has been paid to the surrounding site. A sloping embankment afforded the opportunity for the creation of an outdoor mini amphitheater, and an outdoor play area has been included…A vegetable garden has also been planted.

Of course, any opportunity to reuse containers in the developing world…should be seized where budgets are tight. But that’s just as true for the so-called developed world, too.


If your nation’s balance of trade has more containers arriving with goods than departing, believe me, you can get shipping containers for extremely reasonable prices. For projects dedicated to public improvement – like this one – I’d try to get them for free.

3 thoughts on “A shipping container classroom

  1. David says:

    I have seen shipping containers used for many things. The one I found most interesting was a Starbucks in Washington state. If installed and modified directly they make great homes and apartments.

    • eideard says:

      Couldn’t agree more.

      I worked on a couple of pretty posh homes that used shipping containers as the framework for several rooms, stacked, arranged, finished with spray foam rigid insulation and plastered. I think the contractor paid about $50 apiece for them.

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