Life in a container van

MANILA, Philippines -- Container vans, those huge steel boxes that can carry any type of cargo, have long been fixtures on Metro Manila's major roads. They don't look pretty and they take up too much space in any place they happen to be ensconced at, be it a road, a parking lot, or the shipyard where dozens of them are stacked up like giant Lego pieces. They're so huge; you can fit in the furniture from two households, smuggled Ferraris, and enough food to feed an entire barrio.

You can fit in an office too, which construction firms always do whenever they're building a major landmark. Little work is required to convert a container to a fully operational office. It's also easy to move around. It's not a permanent structure, so once the construction project is finished, the office can be hauled through the container's usual mode of transportation, the hulking semi.

It's no surprise then that a company that delves into a lot of construction projects came up with a really brilliant idea: If a container van be an office where one can actually work, then it can be a place where one can actually live. The container as a home isn't a radical concept. After all, in this day and age, the impoverished of Metro Manila people have no choice but to live in pedicabs and unused giant drainage pipes. Compared to these makeshift homes, the container van is a luxury villa.

"We have always used the container van as an office. It's inhabitable. You put in windows or have the whole thing air-conditioned. So since we've been comfortable working in it, we figured it could work as a dwelling too," says Panya Go Boonsirithum, property manager of Arcya Commercial Corporation.

A real estate developer, Arcya also builds dormitories for students and working class people. The company specializes in building dorms that cater to construction and factory laborers. "Most of the laborers who work in Metro Manila actually live far, in provinces like Laguna, Batangas, or Bulacan and Pampanga," says Panya. "The cost of traveling back and forth alone causes a huge drain on their finances. So what we needed to build was a place they can just stay the night. But it also has to be very comfortable, safe, and clean."

To make the dorm affordable, the cost of construction had to be low. This is where the idea of using the container van came up. "With a container van, you don't require much construction work. You just buy it and put in some modifications to turn it into a comfortable dwelling. Put in windows, utilities, and beds. You get to register roughly 30 percent in savings as compared to constructing an entirely new two-storey building. And the container is made of steel, so it's very durable. It's also environment-friendly since discarded containers are recycled and given a new lease in life," says Panya.

The dorm was built on a stretch of land in Mandaluyong, right along the Pasig River. Christened the Citihub Mandaluyong, it's just among the many dorms the company has built under the Citihub brand. But this is the first that uses container vans, four of them forming two rows with each one stacked on one another. One container houses the men's dorm, while another is reserved for women. The third was converted into two separate shower and rest rooms for the male and female tenants. Each wing is well appointed and is air-conditioned. And at just P1, 500 a month, this very comfortable dorm is a steal.

It's not only comfortable, it's also very stylish. Panya once worked as a production designer for a popular fashion designer and he was tasked to put some pizzazz to these massive steel boxes. Having a penchant for bright and cheerful colors, he turned the soulless boxes into a cool and chic place to live in. So tastefully designed are the interiors, even yuppies would want to live in it. Although Panya says the dorm was designed to be a place to stay the night, tenants might find the place so cozy and homey, they'd want to stay "home" all day.

Citihub Mandaluyong is located at 302 J.P. Rizal St., Barangay Manbini, Mandaluyong City. For inquiries, contact Tel. No. 585-5893.