Shipping Container Library: The SEED


This Shipping container library is the culmination of a design brief that did not start by saying “lets use a shipping container or two”.

In 2010 the AOJ were commissioned by the MAL foundation, South Africa’s first non-profit creative agency, to design a world class library for the MC Weiler Primary School in Alexandra, Johannesburg. The intention was that this design could be used as a blueprint for future libraries in South African schools. The design started by identifying the various spaces that make up a comprehensive library and designing each of them in a way that would be exciting and stimulating for children. These spaces, which were carefully arranged on the selected site at the school to suit the existing conditions and needs of the school, included a library space with place for books as well as audio books, study/classroom space, a multi-media centre, indoor and outdoor group amphitheatre spaces and outdoor spaces for learners to escape and read a book.

Sadly this design could not be realised as it was not possible to raise sufficient funding. However, to ensure the promise of a new library made to the children of the school would be honoured, the AOJ team went back to the drawing board and put the project “on diet” to make it happen.  They proposed a smaller building, with a smaller budget, built from two shipping containers. Much to their delight the strategy worked as the MAL foundation secured funding, and the SEED was planted.

This smaller building was not intended to replace the originally designed resource centre, instead it is a semi-permanent building that can be removed and placed at another school once sponsorship or funding is secured to implement the originally designed building. In addition, if placed at another school, this shipping container library can be used as a “litmus paper” for sponsors/donors/funders to test as to whether or not a school would be capable of managing a larger facility prior to building one.

Unlike the originally designed resource centre, comprising of a fully functional library and media centre, the SEED library is made up of the basics of a school library; a place to access information & a place to do homework and read, and represents the most basic key concepts identified in the originally designed centre. For this reason, the two shipping containers are stacked in a cross formation, differentiating these two spaces and forming a daring cantilever that is visually striking. This library is a working example of an exciting stimulating place, that not only houses knowledge, but also through the use of colour, shape, light, the outdoor and imaginative and inventive space, gives the user an inspiring experience when accessing it.

The SEED library is intended as a repeatable prototype. It can only be wished that it would be repeated many times over, as there are simply too many sad and depressing places of learning in South Africa where buildings such as this could act as symbols of, and contribute to, a materially better future.

Excerpt from the South African Institute of Architects 2013/2014 Awards Book

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October 4, 2014

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