28 containers transform orphanage in South Africa


February 15, 2013

The New Jerusalem Orphanage at dusk (Photo: Dennis Guichard, commissioned by Safintra)

The New Jerusalem Orphanage at dusk (Photo: Dennis Guichard, commissioned by Safintra)

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Having last looked at a temporary use of shipping containers as building blocks, with O+A's festival backdrop in Amsterdam, we're back in permanent territory (as permanent as new buildings are, that is) with 4D and A Architects' shipping container housing at New Jerusalem Orphanage at Gauteng, South Africa. The project is among the more ambitious uses of shipping containers we've seen, using 28 containers in all. Gizmag spoke briefly to its designers to find out more about it.

In an email to Gizmag, Mia Anfield of 4D and A wrote that the idea to use shipping containers came from the fact that two were already on site for storage. The company had already been interested in the work of Adam Kalkin, an American architect and prefabrication specialist who was among the first to put shipping containers to use as houses. The designers, it seems, simply put two and two together.

Completed in December, 2011, the entire construction period lasted six months, though Anfield points out that this was delayed by the arrival of materials to the site, many of which were donated. The project used 28 6- and 12-meter (20- and 40-foot) containers arranged both vertically and horizontally.

One consideration when building with shipping containers is thermal performance, particularly during cold weather or on hot, sunny days. We put this to Anfield, who said that design measures included "orientation of the building, timber screens constructed of eco-friendly composite decking, use of a roof garden for thermal mass and the inside walls and ceilings of the containers were clad in dry wall plus 50mm Isotherm foam insulation." The containers were raised on plinths to encourage the flow of air.

As part of the project, the old brick-built sleeping accommodation was converted into a new kitchen and dining room. The orphanage has also been fitting with solar thermal and photovoltaic systems.

Update September 7, 2013: This article has been amended, as the previously stated dimensions of the shipping containers, at 12 x 6 m, were incorrect.

Source: 4D and A, via Inhabitat

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life. All articles by James Holloway

The problem with architects is that they are always trying to make a pretty picture. While I am glad that the children get the comforts provided I think more good could have been done had they used containers to create maximum inclosed floor space inside and between the containers.

I would have gone with all solar thermal and used Stirling cycle engines to generate electricity using stored heat and combustion to provide 24/7 power.


I think it is a very clever idea to use containers for the orphanage. I like the way it uses what they have to create a building.


This is a beautiful idea. Orphans don't demand for much and here we see how they have built with little. I only hope that much care has been given to fire and health concerns.

I hope that this container approach gives rise to many more orphanages around the world. The best part is that these containers can be painted in beautiful colours!


I love it. I disagree with Slowburn, creative environments breeds creativity. (Just look at the Google offices) Growing up in a pretty and creative building will surely have a positive impact on these children.

Imagine the wonder on the face of a deprived oprhan seeing this building for the first time, and standing looking up into the tower.


While I think it is a great idea to use shipping containers for an orphanage, I have often wondered why they are not being used as temporary housing for the people in Haiti? The tents they are staying in offer very little protection from the environment and the people are unsafe from invasion.

Lynn Russell

Hey,Slowburn- Built any orphanages lately? What good is "would have done"? I say it's a great job and they should make it beautiful and artistic! What point did the little bluebird sculpture have? What point did it have to have? Orphans need healing-not just housing.

This is a showcase work of art that illustrates what one of the ugliest industrial symbols of "waste in the name of efficiency" on this earth can become through Love and Art!

Hey, I say make inspiration-entertainment toys based on this that can teach and inspire junior "art-chitects" while helping raise funds and awareness for the real deal!

There is more to life than illusions of efficiency and busy-ness.


The wooden floors look pretty standard for the containers I have seen.

Doyle Dowd

Healing comes from people interacting in beneficial ways. The question of greatest good. Does giving 100 orphans luxurious accommodation do more good than merely giving 200 orphans safe dorms?


Thanks for the wonderful comments, we can't keep everybody happy as art or architecture is subjective......when I entered the orphange once it was occupied, I found a newspaper article cut-out and stuck on the cupboard of one the orphans, she had written above the article "my new five star home" I think we achieved the unthinkable - a place of belonging

Sean Wall

Very impressive and artsy too! The ornate staircase looks more expensive than it needed to be, however. No mention of how many children live here, tho Slowburn mentioned 100 in his/her droll comment. I say skip the fancy $tuff and build hundreds more of these little beauties! The kids have got to love 'em.

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