Drivelines Studios / LOT-EK
In a time where shipping containers have almost become an architectural cliché, LOT-EK somehow manages to use this industrial object with integrity and relevance. Drivelines Studios is not a revolutionary or visually jaw-dropping building. But sometimes, less really is more. Founded in 1993 by Ada Tolla and Guiseppe Ligano, and currently based across New York and Naples, LOT-EK approached Maboneng, the site for their Drivelines Studios project, with the utmost of sensitivity. In a precinct dominated by young entrepreneurs and creatives, livability, affordability and community are to be prioritized above all else. With their minimal design and construction, Drivelines Studios units can be sold for as low as 120,000 Rand (just above 7,600 Euros), or rented at 3,900 Rand (248 Euros) per month in an area where most apartments require a monthly payment of at least 5,000 Rand.
Johannesburg is often perceived as being one of the most dangerous cities in the world, with its inner-city area historically being one to stay away from. With the social and political transition phase, following the end of apartheid in 1994, also came a period of heightened uncertainty and unrest with growing crime rates within the city. As a result, many businesses and people moved out to the Johannesburg’s suburbs, leaving its urban center free for squatters to occupy vacant buildings. Inevitably, precincts such as Maboneng took on a fearsome reputation – but, as in many other big cities around the world, this unattractive neighborhood caught the attention of young creatives and entrepreneurs looking for lower rents and more freedom. And so, Maboneng grew into the trendy ‘hipster island’ within the still-precarious center of South Africa’s largest city; the perfect testing-ground for a large-scale experiment of LOT-EK’s contemporary industrial aesthetics.
Drivelines Studios is situated on a triangular plot, which inspired the architects to develop a ‘billboard’ geometry consisting of two building volumes hinged together on one end, opening up to create an open inner-courtyard. As this is intended to be the collective social space for Drivelines Studios’ residents, all circulation is located along the inward-facing facades, including open staircases, bridges, paths and an elevator tower. The private studio units open directly out to the communal circulation paths, which LOT-EK hopes will allow for a ‘spillover’ of private life into shared spaces; an idealistic vision many architects wish for, albeit one that feels more likely in a neighborhood built on communal values. Drivelines Studios’ courtyard, including a shared pool, is kept private to its residents, however parts of the ground-level is occupied by retail for the general public. Apart from that, the entire stack of shipping containers is dedicated to housing units, ranging from 28-56m2.
LOT-EK is a design studio that profiles itself on values of sustainability and responsible building methods that exploit the existing properties of industrial objects not intended for architecture. Drivelines Studios seems to tick all of these boxes. LOT-EK designed the building to be left unpainted, selecting the 140 upcycled shipping containers by their colours and effectively allowing these industrial objects to dictate the architecture’s resulting character. The entire construction was stacked and cut on-site with a mirrored and repeated diagonal incision to create the building’s final façade pattern. Despite being a new addition to Johannesburg’s hipster quarter, Drivelines Studios feels right at home. Relating to the current trends and aesthetics and growing local population, while also whole-heartedly following the principles upon which Maboneng, the ‘place of light’, was built: community, livability, and finding value in what already exists.