Container townhouse rises to small site challenge

Right in the heart of Adelaide’s CBD is a house that defied the odds. Built on a tiny block, with only 81 square metres of useable land, this multipurpose residence and office is in striking contrast to the homes and businesses around it.

“It’s the only container high-rise in Adelaide and for how tall it is it is probably the slenderest building in Adelaide. It’s a unique project in every way,” says architect Damien Chwalisz.


After three different designs and ongoing negotiations with the council, this three bedroom home was built using eight shipping containers, externally clad in Cemintel’s Barestone™.

“It was a very challenging site because it was the smallest plot of land in the Adelaide CBD that had ever been sold, at 90 square metres,” explains Damien.

“On top of this, we couldn’t build on all the land. Right from the start we had to create a small footprint – a small and slender structure that functions as a home and home office.”

Owner-builder Robert van Gorp says he bought the tiny site in Hamilton Place because he wanted to live in the centre of town.

“I’d always wanted to live in the city, so my focus was on trying to achieve that. There’s not a lot of land in town so you’ve got to grab what you can, when you can,” Robert says.

Despite the small building area, he didn’t want to feel like he was living in a cramped space.

“We wanted it to feel quite open but also have privacy. I’m a big fan of letting lots of light in so we have more window area than actual land area,” he says.

The house also has two outdoor deck areas, including the rooftop. “We’ve got a decent deck off our kitchen living area so we use that a lot in the mornings for the morning sun. Our roof area is used for entertaining, and there’s a portion of the house on the third level that’s cantilevered outside and encased in glass.”


Architect Damien says while there were the typical requirements of making the most of the views and orientation, they also needed to create something tough and distinctive. “We wanted to cross that fuzzy line between commercial and residential, keeping in mind the heritage restrictions of the area,” he says. Because of this, choosing the right external cladding for the building was one of the project’s biggest decisions.

“From our perspective, it had to have high performance characteristics that would suffer the wear and tear of the city, and be quick and easy to install,” he says. “We also needed a product that didn’t need refinishing or touching up in the future.”

Damien says they chose Barestone because it was robust and complemented the abstract form of the house. “Barestone is quite matte and non-reflective, so when it’s detailed correctly it reveals and enhances the form of the building through its texture.”

Cemintel Barestone is a prefinished, lightweight cladding system that combines the look of raw cement with easy installation. The 9mm compressed panels are coated in Cemintel’s unique CeminSeal® technology, preventing water from penetrating into the sheet and eliminating the need to paint on site, which reduces installation time.

Homeowner Robert says the look, the simplicity, and the insulative properties of the panels were great selling points for using Barestone on his project.

“I’ve always been a fan of concrete and that’s really what I was looking for – a natural concrete-look finish in a large format sheet product. And there isn’t anything else on the market that’s similar, the rest need to be primed or painted by other manufacturers,” he says.


“There are added insulation benefits because there’s an air pocket between the sheets and the top-hat system that the cladding screws to, which is different to steel cladding.”

Although he was a bit nervous about what the neighbourhood would think of his towering shipping-container home, he’s had great feedback so far. “We get people come in to visit every week, we’ve had about three or four write-ups in the paper and we get regular spectators. It was quite exciting during the build as a level would go up every week or so,” Robert says.

“While initially my neighbours were hesitant about our home when it first started going up, they all love it now.”

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