The impeccably designed and constructed interiors exude a lifelike three-dimensional quality. The apartments in Addis Ababa are easily mistaken for the living room, bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen found within this compact 20-feet container located in Tepi, a town situated 560 kilometers southwest of Ethiopia.
Tepi is renowned for its coffee plantations, necessitating the presence of employees and managers at the project site. Surprisingly, the managers and employees of Anderacha coffee plantation, an organic coffee farm in Tepi, reside in these ingeniously crafted mobile houses made from containers.
Containers typically serve the purpose of importing and exporting commodities or acting as storage spaces for specific equipment. However, for architect Kidus Teklu and his comrades, containers transcend their conventional role as mere metal compartments. Kidus is an architect at Maezen Gojo. Maezen Gojo is a consortium of KiT General Trading Plc and Habar Studios. They established Maezen Gojo with the primary objective of developing and selling mobile housing units made from containers.
These mobile houses find versatile applications such as mobile resorts, residential housing units at project sites, coffee shops, residential houses, and offices.
“The container house possesses all the essential elements of a modern dwelling. It comprises rooms, kitchen utensils, including spoons and ovens, and all the necessary household materials. We even deliver it with a prepared bed. You can effortlessly step inside and either sleep or commence living in it,” Kidus explained.
The price of these mobile houses encompasses all the aforementioned items.
A few weeks ago, Maezen Gojo successfully delivered six mobile houses to Anderacha coffee plantation in Tepi. These units signify the initial batch of the 18 mobile housing units that the coffee plantation had commissioned from Maezen Gojo.
The coffee plantation committed to paying 10.8 million birr for the six units and has already disbursed 2.9 million birr. Each of these houses consists of a living room and a bedroom within a single container.
“We have agreed to construct a small resort for them in Tepi, which necessitates 18 containers. Consequently, the resort will feature 18 bedrooms. At present, six of these units have been delivered to the plantation,” added Kidus.
However, he cautioned that the price of mobile houses will see a significant increase moving forward due to the escalating cost of containers.
“It took us 14-months to produce the initial prototype, which included acquiring the container. Presently, we can purchase a container and transform it into a mobile house in just 30 days.” But installing the finalized container house on-site, takes only two days, according to Kidus.
Clients who have acquired these mobile housing units attest that they are not only cost-effective, sturdy, and easily transportable to various project sites, but also save substantial time and money that would have otherwise been expended on acquiring land and securing construction permits for traditional houses. Also, they find it to be a superior alternative to renting houses for their employees.
Maezen collaborates with various companies involved in the mobile housing value chain. These companies specialize in designing mobile houses from containers, supplying the containers themselves, as well as providing furniture and finishing materials for these container houses.
Kidus says the company works with different contractors and companies who are engaged in the production of the mobile house units.
“While we act as the key player, we delegate woodworks and other components to these contractors,” Kidus explained.
At present, Kidus’ company takes less than 30 days to complete the production and installation of mobile housing units. The containers are typically purchased from companies particularly brewery companies. These containers are considered defective and are no longer suitable for international trade shipments. Each of these defective containers is priced at 170,000 birr.
Marc van der Meij, the co-founder of Passion Furniture, a company that manufactures and supplies finishing products for mobile houses, hails from the Netherlands but currently operates in Bishoftu.
“We import various materials, including kitchen cabinets, from Europe to Ethiopia. Our company produces a wide array of materials for mobile houses and also handles the installation,” Meij said.
He says they supply school furniture to several organizations, including Menschen for Menschen, UNISA, Siemens, Moye Coffee, hospitals, real estate firms, and Almi Construction, which is involved in the Eagle Hills site.
However, Meij candidly admits that being an entrepreneur in Ethiopia is quite challenging. He expresses concern over frequent power outages, political instability, and the significant devaluation of the birr. The high inflation rate, exceeding 30 percent, he says, poses another major obstacle.
Despite these difficulties, Meij remains hopeful about the future.
“We plan to reduce our reliance on imported finishing materials and furniture. Dealing with the complexities of bank letters of credit (LC) is not ideal, so I prefer to promote local production in Ethiopia.”
Driven by the exorbitant prices in the property market, project managers, residents, and prospective homebuyers are actively seeking alternative housing solutions. The demand for affordable and prefabricated mobile houses is steadily increasing as traditional housing options become increasingly unaffordable, according to experts.
However, Meij harbors concerns about the viability of the business due to the prevailing security issues in the country.