Between Hamburg’s air raid bunker-turned-renewable energy plant, London’s subterranean shelter-turned-hydroponic farm, and one mayoral candidate’s plot to transform long-abandoned Paris Métro stations into art galleries and discotheques, it’s turned into an international tour of of adaptive reuse ‘round these parts over the past few days.

Now, a look at a recently completed project in the Newtown section of Johannesburg, South Africa, that involves a decommissioned concrete grain silo complex being converted into a 375-bed student dormitory. It’s a pretty bold project as is, never mind the dozens of shipping containers that are perched, some stacked seven-high, atop the 10-story structure and on its side.

I’m seriously curious about the thought process behind developer Citiq’s decision to add retrofitted shipping containers to the roof of the silos. Did the containers always play into the design or did Citiq get halfway-through the conversion of the silo building — not an easy task I would imagine, having to cut windows out of those thick concrete walls – step back and take a hard look at the building and decide: what this building needs is a whole mess of old shipping containers stacked on top of each other.

Whatever the case, the end result is nothing short of dramatic in a wildly post-apocalyptic kind of way. It’s as if Terry Gilliam went into the student housing business. When first viewing photos of the project, dubbed Mill Junction, my initial thought was that the building — “designed to cater for those students who want something different from life” —looked a bit scary, precarious. Despite the relatively quick speed involved with the project (less than a year, apparently) and the looks of the place, the whole shebang is structurally safe and sound.

And speaking of safety, I doubt that’s a huge trampoline perched atop the roof of the building. But yes, the shipping container units do come equipped with balconies offering sweeping views of South Africa’s largest city. (For three semesters in college, I lived in an old high-rise building converted into a dormitory in downtown Boston. My view was of an airshaft.)

Converted grain silo in Johannesburg

In addition to assortment of “trendy” and affordable single, single “premium,” and shared double rooms, Mill Junction has game rooms, computer labs, communal lounges, and libraries throughout the complex. According to The Citizen in an article titled "Container-living is weird, but cool," the total project cost R50 million (about $4.5 million) to complete.

Explains Paul Lapham, CEO of Citiq in a news release: "Reusing these structures often provides for an artistic and eclectic look and feel, which appeals to people wanting to establish their own individuality. This alternative development approach, as compared to traditional building methods involving bricks and mortar, has guided our more recent property acquisitions and designs."

Mill Junction is the property development firm's second project in Johannesburg to involve recycled freight containers, the first being a 15-unit apartment block in the city's Windsor section.

I’ve seen some mixed reactions to the building around the Web, although students in the dorm-strapped city are reportedly going mad over them. What do you think? Would you live in a converted grain silo (or a retrofitted shipping container mounted on top of one)?

Via [Gizmodo], [Designboom]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Mothballed grain silo reborn as student housing in South Africa
A Johannesburg-based property development firm has turned an old grain silo into a student housing complex. And wait to you see what's on the roof ...