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Container homes, offices taking root in Kenya

But NCA Managing Director Daniel Manduku says issues of safety, sanitation and power are critical with containers and have to be looked into

Container developments are becoming a common sight in the country, with many investors preferring their convenience and cheap costs. The concept is popular with the younger folk who like new, exciting ideas. Container facilities are also a hit because of durability and easy change of use (from house to office, kiosk or canteen).

Buyers can also create diversity and implement personalised ideas, which provide a sense of ownership. The beauty of containers is that they easily serve as temporary accommodation structures on construction sites or as semi-permanent or even permanent accommodation on farms.

According to Containers World Kenya Director of Fabrications Moses Ndura, there is a big interest in containers from non-governmental bodies, schools and even hospitals. “Most customers like factoring in time to set up a site and containers can be handled fast based on design.

As an organisation, we have the knowhow on prepping and delivering a proper product to the users,” he says. In the Western world and Asia, the concept is a big deal, especially for those who love adventure and for poor families.

But in Kenya, most of the buyers are those who have been staying abroad seeking similar experiences here at home. Office space, for instance, is a good marketplace for developers in this bracket. Most businesses come in form of referrals.

“The buyers are particular and know precisely what they want. So we have to do a lot of research but, so far, the response has been exciting,” adds Ndura. The portability aspect of containers is an additional incentive to those who move about and need their stuff intact, such as road constructors.

“One can always do away with conventional things and think outside the box and be creative with their containers to satisfy their liking,” says Ndura. However, these kinds of structures are not legally identified because the government considers them temporary structures. As such, only short leases that are renewable are given to owners by the authorities.

The National Construction Authority (NCA)’s mandate of ensuring that the structural regulations are adhered to seem to be scant on the issue of containers. The current building codes in use are considered nondescript because they were passed in 1968. NCA Managing Director Dan Manduku is categorical that container structures have yet to adopt to new building codes.

“A new Bill has been in Parliament for the past five years and has yet to be passed. The proposals set in that document were explicit to the technology and materials to be used in our buildings,” he says. Manduku insists once the Bill sees the light of the day, everyone will play ball.

“For now, the county governments handle such facilities directly under their jurisdiction in terms of registration. However, we continue to advise that issues of safety, sanitation and power are critical with containers and have to be looked into,” he says.

According to Architect Veronica Munyao of Mastercraft Systems, containers offer a different approach going by the technology in play. She says the element of cultural adjustments is a factor that goes well beyond the futuristic value of the facilities. “When it comes to containers, obviously there will be pros and cons that may hinder or advance the needs and use.

Many people tend to look at the cost-effect above anything else, which is normal. As the technical design personnel, we look mostly at the habitation aspects,” says Munyao. Disadvantages Shipping container homes come with a fair share of disadvantages.

Since developers buy used containers, there is the question of longevity. “It is important to look at situations on a case by case basis but, ultimately, this concept is exciting. Still, architects are open to new design ideas,” she adds.

Despite being portable, the logistics of moving containers about is costly, tedious and time-consuming. There is also the likelihood of fresh coat of paint peeling off yet it can prevent rust.

Moreover, wood fabrication on the floors, walls and ceilings is required for keeping the facility warm and free from bugs. It also helps in giving container homes bar finishes in the interior. This concept works best for storage facilities but costs of fabrication vary based on utility and size of space.

Another issue challenge is finding artisans with right experience to deliver a good product. Container owners are a sensitive lot and like specific considerations. Some have bloated expectations and there are occasional quarrels.

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