The New Jerusalem Children’s Home (NJCH) dormitory demonstrates a commitment to sustainable development with an emphasis on using recycled materials for construction and solar energy for lighting and water heating.

The architect firm 4d+a was approached by the NJCH in 2011 to design a building to accommodate 24 children as the existing dwelling in converted double garages had become overcrowded.

“Looking around the property, I was inspired by two shipping containers used for storage at the orphanage and I wondered if we could design something like the container houses of US architect Adam Kalkin. After I contacted Adam, he came out to South Africa on his own expense to give us advice,” explains 4d+a partner Sean Wall.

This house, completed in December 2011, covers 550 m2 and is adjoined to an existing building housing a small kitchen and dining room. It houses 12 girls upstairs, 12 boys downstairs and two house mothers. It also includes two bathrooms with toilets, basins and showers, study space and a lounge.

Some of the salvaged containers have had some of their sides removed and they have been placed next to one another, such as in the lounge where three 12 m-long high-bay (2.6 m high, compared to the usual 2.4 m) containers have been put together to create a roomy space. Others have their doors opened at the end, where floor-to-ceiling aluminium-framed windows have been installed creating airy spaces filled with natural light and extensive views. Verandas have been installed at the ends of some of the containers.

This project could well revolutionise how South Africans see shipping containers: the old ones are most often recycled individually as spaza shops or construction-site offices. The dormitory has been constructed from 28 steel shipping containers in 12 m and 6 m lengths. The containers arrived on site pre-cut and painted. Seen from above, they are basically arranged in the shape of a cross in a variety of configurations, including a cantilevered, port-holed homework-room on the western facade. The entrance container has been turned on its end to create a tower effect, and Wall still plans to place a rainwater tank on top of this tower to gather water for domestic use.

Says Wall: “The idea was to create a home [and provide] a sense of personal space. Each child has a bed and their own cupboard. One of the biggest changes the house mothers have noticed among these children is the sense of pride and ownership that they have developed.”

Orphanage co-founder Anna Mojapelo agrees: “Since the children moved into this house, their self-esteem increased. Now they have their own personal space, they are free to dream their dreams. They are friendlier, they participate more in daily tasks and they are starting to take care of the environment. They see the world in a different light.”

The full article appears in the June-July 2012 issue. Images: Elske Kritzinger (