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Shipping containers get new lease of life as hotel suites in Singapore

By Wong Shiying, The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - This high-end boutique hotel, which sits in the picturesque Gardens by the Bay, can relocate to any location in Singapore or even abroad.

The Garden Pod, a retreat with four duplex suites, is housed in repurposed shipping containers that are about 12.2m long each.

The hotel, which can be moved to other places with its plumbing and electrical systems intact using cranes, opened on Sept 1. Rates start at $450 a night.

Garden Pod
The Garden Pod, a retreat with four duplex suites, is housed in repurposed shipping containers that are about 12.2m long each. ST PhOTO: KEVIN LIM

While its mobility sets it apart from conventional hotels, what this establishment prides itself on is sustainability.

On top of giving shipping containers a new lease of life, the hotel's rooftops tap photovoltaic panels that convert solar energy into electricity, contributing up to 80 per cent of its energy needs.

The terrarium displays and drinking glasses in the hotel are made from recycled glass.

​​The firm's founder, Mr Seah Liang Chiang, said he will consider moving the hotel thereafter "to give Singaporeans a choice to have staycations in different parts of the island".

Its first two hotels, also fashioned out of shipping containers, are at one-north and Haw Par Villa. They are each composed of two containers and have been running since January 2020 and December 2021 respectively.

Mr Seah said bookings have remained consistent at around 90 per cent for these two hotels in the past few years.

The idea of building hotels out of repurposed materials seems to be catching on in Singapore. Just days before the Garden Pod was launched, travel agency WTS Travel announced that it will be building a resort in Changi Village, using 20 decommissioned public buses as guest rooms.

WTS Travel said on Aug 28 that the project, tentatively called The Bus Resort, will be ready by the second quarter of 2023.

It will be located next to the popular Changi Village Hawker Centre and span some 8,600 sq m, or an area slightly larger than a football field. Rates are estimated to be between $300 and $400 a night.

An artist impression of the Bus Resort, a project by WTS Travel. PHOTO: WTS TRAVEL

WTS Travel managing director Micker Sia told The Straits Times that the resort is "meant to be a place to enjoy wellness and recuperate away from city life".

He added that the project's vision is to demonstrate that upcycling and being sustainable can be the catalyst for creating new experiences.

Garden Pod, a short distance from Bayfront MRT station, is the third hotel project by Shipping Container Hotel. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

But such projects are not a leisurely endeavour.

Mr Seah said there are challenges that come with using repurposed materials.

"Shipping containers are made from metal and they heat up more quickly than concrete. So we had to use an insulating material, rockwool, that helps to keep the heat out (of the rooms)," he added.

Garden Pod | Gardens by the Bay
Garden Pod is set to stay in Gardens by the Bay for at least two years. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

He said the containers also had to be reinforced with materials to make them sturdier, especially since they were above ground.

"It was not cheap to make these adjustments, but we wanted the hotel to look beautiful while maintaining its structural integrity," he added.

But there are plus points too. Laud Architects director Matthew Yeo, who was involved in designing Garden Pod, said one advantage of using shipping containers is that they can be assembled quickly.

"This was good as Gardens by the Bay is a public attraction and we could minimise the amount of time needed to close off the area we were working on," he added.

Garden Pod
It took less than a week to assemble the containers. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Mr Yeo noted that it took less than a week to assemble the containers, compared with a couple of months needed for the rooms to be built from scratch using raw materials.

Ms Cherine Fok, director of sustainability services at KPMG in Singapore, said projects like Garden Pod and The Bus Resort are examples of how Singapore can transition to a circular economy and reduce dependence on critical raw materials.

"Through giving old equipment and materials a new lease of life, Singapore can also better guard itself against any unpredictability in the global economy, including price volatilities of materials," she added.

Ms Fok said such projects can serve as a landmark in inspiring more developers to offset their waste; while allowing projects to be completed in a shorter timeline.

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