From shipping containers to educational arts precinct

GOA Catalyst Conference – tackling the lack of regard for art through architecture

Do you think we need to give as much educational and architectural space to arts students as we do for STEM students?


Far too often STEM schools lack a vital letter in between their educational system. STEM should (and indeed needs to) include the arts, STEM needs to expand to STEAM. At my own school there is a severe lack of educational opportunity for artistic students (whether their talents be drama, visual arts, music or graphic design.) The school simply has no space, and no curriculum set up for such students – and ultimately neglects the possible careers and passions of much of the student body.

Indeed the lack of an arts curriculum is not only an issue for those who are interested in the arts – but for the overall health of the community. Often students who are artistically inclined rely on this form of expression to cope with emotions, and express their thoughts. Without this valuable outlet these students end up feeling listless and without access to their biggest passion in life. This lack of an arts education perpetuates the idea that art is not ‘important’ – when it is in fact extremely important to the politics of a society, the media we consume and ultimately the media we create for others to consume. Various studies have shown the link between the usage of art education in improving mental health (mental health is a sore spot at school, with many students struggling with anxiety and depression) and overall bodily health. Art, whether it be visual, dramatic or acted can help with quelling anxiety, ridding students of stress, and inspiring creativity and pride. If the school were to see the students work there would also be a notable improvement with their moods, a study in the guardian shows that patients in a hospitable began to respond better mentally when various art was put up on display on the walls of the hospital.

The articles on the impact of art on health can be found below:

Luckily, on account of new renovations at the school, a significant space with ship-container classrooms now stands unused. The school CEO agreed that this space might eventually become an arts precinct, that the shipping containers could be turned into various studios for the usage of the students.

Existing Container Locations at the African Leadership Academy

What does this project entail?

The aerial sketch above shows the few classrooms that would be available for the realisation of the project. These consist of the five that are of the same small rectangular shape in the centre of the image. The following images show how the buildings look in their current state.

The GOA architecture course has helped me realise how to go about creating a project for a potential construction – particularly the amount of detail that a large project such as this demands.

My vision is to be able to bring together the various practices of art in a professional and calm environment – whilst being simultaneously open to visitors and guests who will interact with the space. By choosing to turn and transform old unused ‘container’ classrooms or shipping containers into an entire arts precinct will solve the problem of a) a complete lack of arts curriculum on campus and b) a stunting of creative student’s expression, ability and future needs (including completing college arts portfolios.) Many students are interested in having such a space exist to be able to practice somewhere elsewhere than the cramped, loud dormitories.

The classrooms themselves will each have different looks and quirks dependant on the different needs of the practice. Some classrooms will have more natural or electrical light, some will be dark whilst some will be light. The flooring is also based on different artistic needs. The dance studios will have wooden floors for comfort, the visual arts will have tile to minimise mess and the theatre and music will have padded and soundproof foam installed in the rooms. The rooms will have large windows, lots of natural light and muted calming colours such as pale browns, greys and white. The spacing of the room will also be important, stressing the need not to be cramped, the rooms should work off of as much minimalism and cleanliness as possible.

The school is willing to look at the plans for the creative commons, and have requested that the plans for the project be affordable, realistic and aesthetically pleasing. The site is on a very slight slope; the majority of the area is bricked but some parts are still grassy. It often becomes extremely hot and rainy during summer, and frigid and dry during winter. The commons will have to be equipped with both the material flexibility to deal with such weather change, and ultimately the technology within the buildings to create a comfortable atmosphere in uncomfortable weather. There are a few large trees around the site, which provides shade only in some spaces, whilst the rest is quite exposed to the sun. The school would also be willing to fit in small indigenous gardens around the classrooms, such as small round mini-gardens of aloe plants and local fynbos. 

The constraints are that the structure of the outside container classrooms have to largely stay the same. Although the project can place windows, change the colour and change the interior of the room – the outside structure must remain the same. Similarly, the electrical and plumbing systems must also remain unchanged – as changing them will be a large cost that the school will not budget for. The space needs to be more accessible and appealing to students. Outside of the classrooms there should be much more common area that is furnished for students to interact within, such as rounded tables with umbrellas in the middle of them for shade. 



The project started with extremely rough sketches, basically imagining what the space might be like. I gathered information from various different inspiring buildings that had utilised the ‘container.’




After gathering inspiration I began to make rough aerial view sketches of the classroom space.



I also made a rough bubble diagram about my ideas in the space. I sketched quite crudely about how the containers looked, and found that it was easier to structure my thoughts by physically writing them down on paper. I also found myself discovering new ideas in this process – such as what to include in the garden outside the area and new details of the inside spaces.

After examining the space, the restrictions and the containers – I formulated some final sketches of one of the studios (as all five differ.) The main changes made to the building will be separating the wall in between the classrooms to make the containers one larger space, the outside of the containers will be painted white, the windows enlarged, the door reduced to only one door on the far right of the classroom, and lastly to make some structural change to the inside of the building. The doors will also be painted a muted shade of grey, light grey or pale brown.


The final stages of the project appeared in the drafting of a site plan, various floor plans and finally a drawing envisioning the essence of the project itself.

Thank you for taking the time to explore my project. Please leave both your locations and any commentary you have about the project below.

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  1. April 27, 2018 by Teasha.McKoy

    This project was amazing! Great Job!

  2. April 27, 2018 by Elim Lee

    I’m so glad GOA offers such out of the box (haha pun) courses, and I could experience your architecture! STEAM is an important matter to me, and arts-based curriculum was a huge factor for me in my college basis! What do you think are specific benefits in arts ed?

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