Funky Newtown silos are now student digs

2013-09-20 10:00

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They’re a burst of colour on the Joburg skyline – massive, bright shipping containers mounted on top of unused silos in Newtown.

But they’re not just beautiful, they’re practical: Early next year, they are set to become home to 360 students.

Property development group Citiq believes the project will not only address the acute shortage of student accommodation in Joburg, but will also be a new chapter in the handbook of innovative construction.

The silos were owned by Premier Milling and stood empty for decades. They were due to be demolished, but then Citiq bought them for R4 million.

Now they’re hoping that, in January, the first students will be able to move in to the silos, on top of which 28 shipping containers will be mounted. Two levels of containers have already been placed on the 10-storey-high silos, and two more will still go on top of these.

The completed building will be nearly 40 metres high and will consist of 14 floors. It’s no place for people who suffer from vertigo, but the view from the top is breathtaking.

Standing on top of the building, Citiq chief executive Paul Lapham points out the Market Theatre, the Oriental Plaza and Museum Africa.

“Isn’t it cool?” he says. “I find Newtown the cultural heartland of Johannesburg.”

The inspiration for the conversion of the silos into low-cost housing came from a similar project in Cape Town. There, a different company redeveloped the old mill complex’s former silo – better known to residents as the Old Biscuit Mill.

The Cape Town Creative Academy is now housed in the six-storey silo. Last year, Lapham also built an entire block of flats from shipping containers in Johannesburg’s Windsor East.

When they redesigned the silos, they decided to use shipping containers again. How else would you expand a silo?” he asks.

Lapham says the biggest challenge was planning how to convert the circular-shaped silos into comfortable living quarters for up to 360 students. Because there were already “walls”, it was only necessary to build in ceilings, floors, doors and windows.

There will be studies, a living area, computer rooms and other recreational facilities on every level.

Each floor will also have communal bathrooms and kitchens. The rooms are each 13m² and can comfortably house two people. There will also be premium rooms with private bathrooms.

The rooms will be rented out for between R1 900 to R3 200 and students will have to show proof of registration at a university before they can be considered as tenants.

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