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Malaysian house made from shipping containers exudes traditional charm

Built from four shipping containers connected by a series of steel platforms and bridges, the Kontena home has ample parking spaces around the house. Photos: Winston See/Paperspace

Container houses may not be entirely new but with the ever rising price of property, they could well be a viable home ownership option. And with the right touch, such designs can offer stylish and sustainable living without compromising on comfort.

One such example is the Kontena house, located in Bentong, Pahang, designed by architect Winston See, co-founder of Paperspace design studio.

When the owner, Gan Heng Chye, approached See to rebuild an old wooden house, Gan had in mind a run-of-the-mill concrete and brick wall concept due to budget constraints.

However, upon learning that it was where Gan grew up, See wanted to make it more meaningful.

The single-storey traditional kampung house that has since been replaced with the Kontena home.

“The house will most likely be the one he retires in.

“It was a single-storey traditional kampung house constructed with weathered cengal and balau wood on a concrete base.

“From our first visit, it was obvious that this very old but humble home needed a lot of work. The challenge, however, was to revamp the entire house within a short period of time so that Ahma (Gan’s mother) could enjoy the new home.

Hardwood from the old house was repurposed into external lourvres (background) and the main door.

“After several discussions, we conceived the idea of creating a container home as that would greatly minimise the construction time and cost, ” explains See, adding that the whole cost of building the home, furnishing included, was less than RM500,000.

Built from four shipping containers connected by a series of steel platforms and bridges, the new three-bedroom, double-storey house has a built-up area of 2,850sq ft (265sq m). As a sustainable practice, precious cengal and balau from the original house were repurposed for the main door and external louvres, giving a sense of charm and a nod to nostalgia.

To keep it cool – a common concern when it comes to container homes – a few design features were incorporated.

“The challenge with shipping containers is they generate a lot of heat internally as the walls are not insulated. Therefore, we implemented sustainable design measures to facilitate natural ventilation and lighting throughout the house.

“These include incorporating pockets of semi-indoor courtyards and a double roof structure over the entire house. The air cavity between the containers and the secondary metal roof lets warm air build-up escape through cross-ventilation. Additionally, the double volume semi-indoor courtyards allow venting at a high level since hot air rises.”

See adds that existing shipping container doors were left as they were to provide additional openings whenever needed.

“Permanent openings were also carefully positioned to allow efficient cross-ventilation within the house.”

Kontena is lived in by Gan’s mother and serves as a weekend and holiday home for his small family of three.

The kitchen is located at the heart of the home in a semi-indoor courtyard.

A special request by Gan’s mum was that the dry kitchen be at the heart of the home, as she makes it a point to feed everyone well at her house. Hence, the dry kitchen is located in the semi-indoor courtyard, which also greets guests as soon as they enter the house.

The common quarters – living, dining and dry kitchen – are positioned in an open-plan concept, offering a spacious area ideal for large family gatherings.

At the back, one bedroom is tucked away and segregated from the common quarters, for privacy.

“This creates a private granny suite with a herb garden and sewing workspace for Ahma. Her sewing machine is 40-50 years old and still working!” See remarks.

As Gan often hosts family gatherings, especially during festive seasons like Chinese New Year, factoring in generous parking spaces was another priority.

“Seeing that the road outside the house is relatively narrow, we provided a spacious car porch that can accommodate relatives’ cars and motorbikes during these gatherings.

“The shape of the land is an odd trapezoid and fitting rectangular shipping containers within the required building setbacks created many outdoor nooks along the site boundary. These nooks serve as additional parking spaces, outdoor lawns and herb garden.”

The living room is fitted with modern furnishings.

Working on the project proved to be an eye-opener for See.

“This project is truly unique. It challenged us in so many ways, forcing us to step away from our comfort zone of using conventional building methods and materials.

“In Malaysia, shipping containers are commonly used for offices and hotels. A shipping container home is in a completely different league due to its modular design and constructability.

“Designing a home involves much consideration for practicality and ease of daily usage. This project definitely involved a lot of risks, but it is immensely fulfilling to be able to see it materialise and become a family home for generations to come, ” he says.

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