Mabette Vermaak – Container Architecture and More

  1. 3What is the name of your company and when did you start your journey in architecture?

DETAIL ARCHITECTS was established in November 1996.

I think that my journey in architecture sub consciously started around our family kitchen table at the age of about 9 or 10. My mom was a grade 4 teacher but in a process to make ends meet decided to get involved in the property market. I remember helping her cut out pieces of cardboard to indicate scaled furniture items and sitting to the late hours of the night “playing” around with alternative options of design solutions.

Then as a high school student I decided to study architecture as I believed that it would be a perfect combination of my then favourite subjects, art and maths… now looking at architecture and specifically residential architecture I know that architecture is much more than that.

Winston Churchill said: “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.”

  1. What is your style of design?  How would you describe your work?

My style has developed from years of study, exploring ideas, continually looking at buildings and developing an understanding of what I feel creates great spaces.

I strive to create honest spaces that can become the support act to the end user…. The client brief together with a detailed site analysis is used to form the backbone of each individual project

  1. Can you explain the architecture and design of the Life &Style studio container?

I was SUPER excited to do this!

There are amazing buildings created by making using of shipping containers: drive through coffee shops, restaurants, holiday homes as well as permanent homes on a estate, even an entire shopping complex, a boutique hotel, to name a few. With the opportunity to design the Life & Style studio I had the PERFECT clients. We received a short but thorough brief, and then they stepped back and allowed us to make the magic happen.

The context of and accessibility to the site played a big role in the configuration of the building. Containers come in a series of specific dimensions.  It is as if you have a box full of oversized Lego pieces… those pieces can be combined in a multitude of ways…. And there is not necessarily a right and a wrong combination…But somehow if you manage to find the best combination for your client’s specific needs on his/her specific site….you almost FEEL it.

Visibility from different vantage points, scale of surrounding buildings, existing services and the establishment of the radio brand was all factors that had to be addressed. The logistics of radio broadcasting and the technical requirements supporting that was fascinating.

The studio basically consists of two 6m containers. The one container accommodates the entrance and reception area. By cutting in huge glass panes on both sides this unit becomes transparent and the passerby experience the luscious greens of the nursery as the backdrop. The other container is utilized as a coffee kitchen, storage area and then the broadcasting studio. The public is extremely important to the radio station. By replacing the entire end panel of this unit with glass and positioning the broadcasting desk in a specific way we hoped to visually open up the mystery behind broadcasting, creating a link between the public and the broadcaster. Anybody that has ever looked at the crow’s nest of wires behind their home theater system will appreciate the challenges behind this configuration.

Next time when you walk past the Life & Style radio station, stop, walk up, wave, and even stare if you like…. Knowing that this type of interaction is exactly what we aimed to facilitate.


     4. What were the challenges of the Life & Style studio design

Our first challenge was program – we had an extremely short lead time and our client was very keen to have the station up and running prior to the December break. Anybody who has worked in KZN for a while knows that most clocks down here are set on beach time….From as early as mid-October the industry is already slowing down, preparing for the keenly awaited December break….We eventually resorted to using a company from Gauteng to refurbish the containers off site. The idea was that the containers would be delivered as almost completed units based on the design, and then purely connected / assembled on site to form the end product. Academically this sounded realistic but the factors that proved problematic were quality control and delivery date. It was a bit like waiting for a baby to be born… we even had an early morning exercise where the whole local team arrived at Lifestyle Centre,eagerly awaiting the big delivery…. Just to leave the site disappointed and frustrated a few hours later. But again as with a baby…. It was all worth the wait in the end!sun-6

  1. Are container-based structures easier and more affordable to design and build?  Or is this is a myth.

I am of the opinion that is neither easier nor more affordable…. The dimensions of containers are very limiting and requires some serious out of the box thinking…. (Pardon the pun) But it is exactly this challenge that can result in amazing spaces created. It forces you to think of the use of space and strip it down to the bare necessities…

From an external spatial point… the fact that the containers have their own structural integrity makes the design process very interesting… you can stack them, cantilever them, support them against the slope… in the process creating outside spaces… once you realize the full potential of the space you are creating …the limited size of the container becomes the grid, the backdrop supporting the spatial concept.

Further advantages of container architecture is that the process is less time consuming and definitely gets a big tick in terms of sustainability. The reality of the matter is however that project cost ends up to be very similar (if not more expensive) to projects making use of conventional building products.

  1. What are your favorite aspects of the structure?

The fact that EVERY square centimeter of the space was utilized to its full potential.

The way that the building fits into the space, making a bold statement but simultaneously acknowledging the existing context it is positioned in.

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