The conversion of the former grain silos in Newtown, Johannesburg into trendy student accommodation is now completed. Known as the Mill Junction, it will be home to 400 students from the University of Johannesburg and the University of the Witwatersrand as well as other colleges in Johannesburg.
Over the past 12 months, the construction site has been clearly visible from the highway, and has generated equal amounts of interest and criticism. The development includes both the former grain silos with 10 floors of accommodation, as well as four additional storeys which have been built using shipping containers.
“Now complete the 14 storey building towers over Newtown and is proof of what can be achieved through creative design and leading edge architecture. We challenged our design team to be creative and innovative with the space, and they have surpassed all expectations,” says Paul Lapham, CEO of Citiq, a Gauteng based property investment and management company.
According to official data, about half of undergraduate students drop out of university without completing their degrees. This high dropout rate is attributed to lack of academic support and family pressure as well as inadequate assistance.
“We realised that if we could provide everything a student would need for a study- friendly and comfortable environment, we might be able to make a difference to their academic success,” he says.
All the basics have been covered - from study rooms, free wifi and lounges to communal kitchens and bathrooms on every floor. In addition, a gym, table tennis facilities, and snooker room form part of the recreation spaces. On the rooftop, with spectacular views of the city, a section has been Astro-turfed making it an ideal place for socialising.
This project is testament to what can be achieved when focusing on renewable and energy-efficient architecture. The grain silos had long stood abandoned, and this project involved repurposing them into student accommodation which is well located for students attending the surrounding universities.
“Vacant land in city centres is hard to come by, and repurposing the silos into student accommodation not only provides convenient and well situated accommodation, but also contributes to urban regeneration and making Newtown a vibey and happening place,” he says.
"Apart from the contemporary design and the reuse of the existing silo structure, the apartments have energy-efficient features such as hot water from heat pumps, motion-sensor lighting, double-glazing on windows and external doors, energy-efficient lighting and water-pipe insulation. These initiatives have cut power consumption on the project to 50% of that used by a conventional building, and will have long term savings for the students living there.
Silo conversions have been undertaken around the world, including the Biscuit Mill development in Cape Town. Apartments, hotels, student residences and even single home dwellings have been built out of converted silos that once accommodated anything from grain to nuclear missiles.
In addition, shipping containers are being used worldwide for holiday homes, cafes and restaurants, schools, offices, shopping malls and even skyscrapers. They have also proved popular due to their flexibility and affordability and the need to find uses for recycled containers.
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