Qubix: Building with Recycled Shipping Containers

By Selma Köhn

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When it comes to living space, there are studios, apartments, villas, mansions and then there is Qubix.

Qubix is a container design studio based in Egypt that specializes in the conversion of shipping containers into homes, stores, studios, cafés, bars and other buildings for various types of purposes that are tailored to its customers through a method called Cargotecture or Container Architecture.

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While the main construction is based on the container itself, it still provides the same security and stability of a traditional building. Moreover, a customized container is built 60% faster, costs 40% less than a traditional building and is movable, eco-friendly and adaptable to any needs. Containers come in two different sizes, 20ft and 40ft, and can be stacked up to eight, fitted with any kind of material and placed anywhere on legal ground.

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Founders Youssef Farag and Karim Rafla brought this idea to life in October 2016. Community Times spoke to Farag about their vision to revolutionize Egypt’s housing market.

The concept of Cargotecture comes from the U.S. when it was brought to light in the eighties. How did you come up with the idea of introducing it in Egypt?

The idea came when Karim and I were brainstorming different business ideas because we were very motivated to start our own company sooner rather than later. Karim told me about Container City in London and we both loved the concept and believed it would be something new in Egypt, so at that moment, we decided to go full steam ahead and give it a shot even though neither of us had any technical engineering knowledge.

We found a design we liked, put together a team of two workers, asked Fatma Moemen (Head Designer and Architect at RDW Architects) for help with technical drawings and then we bought ourselves a 20ft container, dropped it in my backyard and got to work.

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You produce in three stages: design, develop and deploy. Please describe what happens in each stage and how long each takes.

In the design stage, we consult with clients and understand what their needs are, how much space is required, the color and material preference and then we share all the branding material that will be incorporated in the design. Once all that is communicated, we then work on several design options using different numbers of containers, color schemes, divisions and stacking, and once the client is happy, we start the building process. The design phase usually takes around ten days to complete.

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The development phase is when we start building the chosen design in our production facility with the help of our 26-man team of workers from different fields. It includes infrastructure work, insulation, paint, windows, doors, piping, electricity and all interior finishing as well as AC installation. This process takes on average four weeks to complete, but can take longer with bigger projects.

Deploy – the final stage – is when we deliver the product from our facility to where the client requests it, which we do using trucks, cranes and fork lifts. Once we arrive and unload the container, we connect it to the electric and plumbing infrastructures and it is ready for use. All of this happens in the space of one day.

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Seeing as your projects are tailored, what is possible and what are the limits?

One of our mottos is “limitless possibilities”, and so there really are no limitations in regards to size, color, design features, material used, as well as the intended purpose of the project. We can use containers to build small homes, large villas, apartment complexes, bathrooms, restaurants, kitchens, small and large retail stores and we can even use the containers to build pools!

Most of our projects have been fully customized to the clients’ needs, preferences and budget, and so looking through our portfolio, it is easy to tell that no two projects are alike. We understand that everyone has certain needs, and although we do offer standardized products, we find that people enjoy exploring the limitless possibilities they find while customizing their own unit.

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How much do customers have to invest?

That really depends on what kind of project they need. Our quotations are always a full service, which includes the design, building, finishing, delivery and installation. We also include all AC units, as well as toilets, sinks and in some cases furniture.

How easy is it for customers to move around with it?

Containers are designed to move around for logistical purposes. This is one of the after sales services we offer our clients; we can move the containers from one place to another using our equipment that enables us to place them anywhere large enough.

You can put them pretty much anywhere. Businesses usually rent a space in a mall or commercial area and place their containers there, alternatively, home owners and land owners place it on their lots.

Who is your target group? Who benefits most from your concept?

Anyone can benefit from our concept really; it is a more efficient way of building and who would not want to take advantage of that? Right now, we are targeting small and large businesses, entrepreneurs and home and land owners, but in the future, as we scale the business, spread the concept and increase people’s awareness of the benefits of Cargotecture, we want to then target individuals looking for affordable housing, both in Egypt and abroad.

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How much room is there in an average-sized home container?

The size of a container home is not limited. We can use any number of containers to build a structure of any size, so you can build a home suitable for a single person or for a family of five or even more.

After being in business for more than a year now, what is your current status? How many containers have you restructured?

So far we have repurposed 26 containers for several projects, which are all in order and in use. Some are private, whereas most of them are for retail and business purposes.

Now that the summer is over, we are in the process of relocating all the projects that were in Sahel back to Cairo so businesses can resume, which saves them from the problem of operating on a seasonal basis because of their location. When using containers, location will never be the reason your business does not take off or succeed because it is very easy to move your brand to other areas.

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What is your vision?

We have a very bold vision for the company: we want to build commercial and retail projects, large homes and apartment complexes as well as build and pioneer the industry of Container Architecture in Egypt and use it to solve some of Egypt’s problems.

Our ultimate goal is to play a role in restructuring Egypt’s slum areas, which means that people would not need to relocate and will live in better and safer homes.

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