How an IT scientist built a hotel out of shipping containers in Singapore: photos
Seah Liang Chiang has spent a decade working in IT. But after watching the Netflix show “Tiny House Nation,” Seah decided to change careers. He set his sights on becoming a hotelier, specifically building tiny hotels out of shipping containers.
Seah and his wife Lorraine started a hotel chain called Singapore Container Hotel, and in 2020 they opened their first hotel in an industrial enclave in central Singapore. They then opened another hotel in Singapore’s famous hell-themed park. In both hotels, the living space consists of a single shipping container.
But Seah always dreamed of something bigger: he wanted to build a luxury hotel out of four double-decker shipping containers.
“I wanted to dispel the idea that recycling shipping containers is a cheap experiment,” Seah told Insider.
This month, Seah launched its third hotel location, called the Garden Pod, at Gardens by the Bay, a 101-hectare park overlooking the iconic Marina Bay Sands. The construction of the hotel took about two years.
Seah’s first step was to purchase shipping containers, which are the hotel’s main living space. Seah said he bought 10 containers from a container yard in western Singapore.
The hotel was designed by local architectural firm Laud. In early 2020, Seah began building the hotel with a team of architects and engineers. He estimates he spent around S$1 million, or about $700,000, to build the complex.
Seah said the containers, which are 2.4 meters or about 7.8 feet long, cost around SG$8,000 each.
The first step was to make sure the containers were strong enough to be turned into living spaces. At the construction site, the containers were cut and reinforced with steel beams.
Next, the team installed aluminum frames in the cut-out parts of the containers. Heat-tempered glass, capable of withstanding the force of the container being lifted into the air, was installed in these frames.
The hotel structure was built on site at Gardens by the Bay. The land was flattened and reinforced slabs and steel bars were used to fortify the ground so that it could support the weight of the containers.
Around 50 million people have visited the park in downtown Singapore since it opened in 2012. It is known to have the largest glass greenhouse in the world.
In order to operate the hotel in the park, Seah must pay rent to Gardens by the Bay. Seah declined to reveal the park’s rental fee.
A Gardens by the Bay representative told Insider that business deals are determined by factors such as market rental rates and “the overall value provided to visitors.” The representative did not comment on the amount of the rental fee at the park.
“The Garden Pod is a pop-up hotel concept that Gardens by the Bay has developed with the Shipping Container Hotel,” the rep said. “We are always open to new proposals from business partners to bring new and interesting experiences to our visitors.”
The hotel is not a permanent structure at Gardens by the Bay. Seah built the hotel in a modular fashion so that it could be reassembled elsewhere.
“I had to be able to pull the steel beams out – they couldn’t be cast in concrete,” Seah said.
One of the most notable features of each loft is a spiral staircase, which Seah likened to a sculpture. The hotel has four staircases in total, each of which was hoisted after the construction of the first floor of the hotel.
The hotel has been fitted with fire-resistant walls and ceilings in accordance with Singapore Civil Defense Force guidelines, Seah said.
Electrical wiring had to be concealed inside the walls to avoid fire hazards in the hotel, Seah said. Rock wool was also inserted into the walls so that it wouldn’t get so hot inside the container, especially in Singapore’s tropical climate.
Seah added that building a tiny house in Singapore is “difficult” due to the government’s strict safety guidelines, explaining that even temporary structures are subject to the same standards as permanent structures.
The interior of each loft is designed with a modern touch. Marble counter tops and floor to ceiling windows create the illusion of spacious living space.
Each loft, which measures 70 square meters, has a large outdoor patio, a bedroom with en-suite bathroom, a living room and a dining area.
A one-night stay isn’t cheap – it costs SG$600 to accommodate four people.
Thiang Yong Chan, a guest who stayed at the hotel in September, said the loft was not “the typical small container” and was on par with more established hotels.
“A nice place for a short getaway,” Thiang wrote in a Google review. She added that one of the downsides of the hotel is the lack of privacy, due to the large glass windows.
Seah said that while the process of building the shipping container resort was difficult, it was worth it because it’s “the closest thing we’ve got to living off the grid.”
Seah said it’s expensive and time-consuming to build a tiny house structure in Singapore, which is the opposite of what people generally look for in a tiny, mobile life.
“A lot of people are drawn to the hotel because they’re intrigued by what comes closest to living off the grid,” Seah said. “I build these hotels so that people can live in a small house in town.”