The Erongo region of Namibia is on Africa’s west coast, about 1,000 miles north of the South African metropolis of Cape Town. When architecture firm Innovative Collaborations Inc. partnered with Containers 2 Clinics and Southern Logistics International to build three maternal- and child-health clinics in the region—repurposing shipping containers for the job—Innovative Collaborations principal Martin Smargiassi knew that the harsh climate of the surrounding Namib Desert would be a major hurdle. “This area is very representative of tough living,” Smargiassi says, noting the remote location and the area’s lack of resources. “It’s the poorest of the poor with no natural resources and an incredibly harsh climate, making it hard for the people in this area and hard for us to work.”
Going in, Smargiassi and his team knew that the 8’x20’ shipping containers would have to operate as fully stocked, fully equipped health-care clinics, featuring adaptable water and power hook-ups, climate controls, space for comprehensive care, private consultation areas, a laboratory and pharmacy, and a multitude of other crucial features.
Thankfully, the containers used are equipped to handle high wind and seismic environments. The rugged structural steel and light-gauge metal framework is strong and durable capable of withstanding up to 180 pounds per square foot of floor loading.
“There are literally an infinite number of ways these containers can be modified as long as structural integrity is built into them by reinforcement,” Smargiassi says. “We have designed the units to have foundations, footings, and connections to resist winds of 120 miles per hour.”
The most important factor when it came to energy efficiency was the employment of passive and active solar strategies. Being mindful of solar orientation can dramatically reduce the building’s energy consumption and dependence on outside sources of energy, Smargiassi says. As a result, the team built a sloped sun-shading canopy that promoted airflow, shielded the clinic, and provided shade for those outside. The canopy was equipped with a rainwater collector for both potable and non-potable water. The structures also included photovoltaic panels that generate electricity using a bidirectional inverter and battery charger.
The containers’ most impressive feature, however, is the Super Therm ceramic coating by Superior Products, which is inspired by ceramic tiles used by NASA. The ceramic-based, water-borne, insulating coating was designed to block heat load, moisture penetration, and air infiltration, and it simultaneously reflects ultraviolet, visual, and infrared rays, thus keeping the building cooler than with traditional insulation. “Why use traditional fiberglass insulation to slow the transfer of heat into the building when you can just prevent heat from entering the building in the first place?” Smargiassi says. The coating will reflect up to 95 percent of solar radiation. The first of the Erongo container clinics are expected to be operational this year.