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    Credit: Lincoln Barbour

While completing his M.Arch. at Washington State University, Scott Jones started the Thrive Project, packing books, computers, tools, and building materials into a 400-square-foot shipping container bound for Eldoret, Kenya. Jones plans to build out the shipping container—and others after it—into a vocational training center. What makes this different from shipping-container initiatives for other countries such as Haiti or Malawi? “Capacity,” says Jones. “You think about what a container is, and there is so much untapped potential to use every square inch.”

You go through case studies and you spend a lot of time understanding the existing paradigms of shipping-container adaptability. I really appreciate the modularity of using them, but there are a lot of unexplored areas with containers in terms of adaptation. Don’t get me wrong—I’m very impressed with what people are doing with containers. But how can the container evolve once more? How much can we feasibly do with a single container? What will have the highest impact for the lowest investment? Finally, how can we create space?

I approached this design problem with a box of Legos in mind. Our site in Kenya is about a mile from the big east–west railroad—so we have a lot of access to containers. The first one will be shipped from the U.S., however, and contain trusses that will span the distance between the container drop site and the building site about 100 yards away. Subsequent containers will fill in the distance, and I’m hoping to use between nine and 15 from in-country. As more containers are secured, they build out from the original container and stack horizontally atop it. Containers can be arranged to maximize otherwise negative space to create outdoor classrooms. But the key is to create a permanent structure—the idea of permanence in Kenya is important because it is a community driver.

With any Third-World project, when complexity goes up, the success rates go down. The projects that are successful are straightforward in nature—not simplistic, but straightforward. So, in moving ahead, it has been important to show a level of confidence in our project, to have a substantial team on the ground in Kenya, and to cultivate a good understanding of Kenyan building culture.

So it’s been a multilateral effort. There are risks and shipping security problems—especially when the container arrives in Kenya. A lot of our equipment is a huge target for theft. So it’s been about finding a balance. This is totally outside the realm of what I thought architecture was. When I finished my undergraduate degree, I traveled around East Africa, and by the time I started my M.Arch., the opportunity to positively impact people seemed clear. I’ve done a lot of work in architecture—from big-box retail to residential design/build—and the thing that drives me is how the end user is impacted. —As told to William Richards