Light steel frames produced in South Africa are now being assembled into mobile storefronts, office spaces, and even multi-room houses – at competitive prices.
The concept behind Urban Pod is not a new, with examples of garden-style units popping up in the United Kingdom over the past decade. But these minimalist structures have only recently drawn serious attention in South Africa. In 2020, Urban Pods began to roll out in South Africa, with steel frame fabrication masterminded by Bernard Coetzer and marketing led by Ruaan Robbertze, just in time for a wave of home improvements triggered by lockdowns.
The Pretoria-based duo have been inundated with requests since posting their creations on social media. The fixed structure which has received the most attention is a two-bedroom unit, complete with bathroom and kitchen, for R480,000, but Robbertze is quick to point out that mobile units remain his passion.
“We would very much like to focus all our energy on these mobile units with all their various applications,” says Robbertze. “You can still build your two, three or even four-bedroom units by simply arranging these single units to make up your home.”
The units are customised to the customer’s specifications, with mobile frame chassis starting at 3 metres by 2.6 metres at a cost of approximately R6,500 per square meter. The outer frame can be clad with a variety of materials, including Chroma deck, Nutec, canvas and even pine. Fibre cement, melamine, and rhino board can be used as the inside covering.
Between these inner and outer layers of material cladding, waterproofing, insulation, and temperature-transfer materials surround the frame. Electrical circuits, plumbing and even gas piping can be incorporated into the design.
“In addition to this there could be cupboards, shelves, kitchens and bathrooms added and this is where your imagination comes into play,” says Robbertze.
The most-popular mobile unit, which is being touted by Robbertze as an entry-level pod to accommodate office, shop-front and tiny home applications, is the 6 metre by 2.6 metre (for 15.6 square metres) structure. This complete pod, which is offered with financing options, costs approximately R100,000, depending on the choice of cladding and accessories.
These pods can be combined for up to 200 square metres, with the only limitation on the frame’s width being 2.6 metres. Individual pods can stretch 8 metres long.
Robbertze stresses that comparison between Urban Pods and container homes are erroneous.
“Your basic container is made of very thick and heavy metal and to manipulate a container to get a nice finish, or even a simple thing as insulation, becomes very expensive if done well,” explains Robbertze. “[Additionally], basic pods are built from scratch and this makes it easy to customise.”