Kampot native, Lun Vuthy, started his career in Phnom Penh working with a Vietnamese company importing second hand freight containers into Cambodia.
While his first employer focused on reselling the containers for storage purposes, Vuthy spent his early working years online on his smartphone researching innovative container refurbishment projects around the world.
As he surveyed condominium blocks, cafes, office spaces, and recording studios in urban centres around the globe, he soon saw the architectural potential of the metal boxes his business was dealing with.
“Containers represent a kind of blank canvas. They are just a shell of a building, but the artistic interior and exterior design possibilities are endless,” Vuthy said.
Three years ago, Vuthy’s Vietnamese employer closed up shop in Phnom Penh and left the Cambodian market, paving the way for Vuthy to launch his own start-up business, which he named Vuthy Container.
The business has since taken off and the 28-year-old entrepreneur now has 15 staff members as the company expands its offerings to involve an eclectic mix of container-based real estate development projects.
Vuthy’s business model involves purchasing the container shells from China, Vietnam or Korea at around $1,000 per piece, and then sets about upgrading them for specific residential and commercial uses.
Fully-fitted office containers – complete with carpet, insulation, and air-conditioning – sell for around $3,000 for a 25 square foot unit.
They have proven a hot ticket for construction and development companies, farmers, factory owners and those in need of supplementary business space.
Some local TV stations have also contracted Vuthy’s containers as noise-proof recording studios.
His most unique and extensive project to date is the K-Race container pub on Street 59, Daun Penh. K-Race is a bar, restaurant and live music venue made from a set of 20 connected freight containers.
For the project, Vuthy worked closely with an architect to establish a creative but functional venue.
K-Race, a fully functional business, plays on the industrial theme, with wait staff adorned in hard hats and overalls. The interior of K-Race is also defined by recycled features, such as the bottle windows and re-fashioned 40-gallon drum loungers.
Vuthy’s upcoming project will have Vuthy Container work closely with a German/Malay couple to design and build a bungalow-style hotel in Kampot, consisting of a collection of recycled containers.
A Singaporean food and beverage vendor in Phnom Penh is also working with Vuthy to launch an innercity cafe with a collection of six containers.
Meanwhile, Vuthy sees significant opportunities for his business to enter Cambodia’s housing market.
For less than $6,000 per unit, a 30 square foot container can be renovated into a three-room abode, subdivided into a toilet, bedroom and living room or kitchen. The ease of stacking containers into blocks of apartments also creates the potential for land-size-sensitive urban affordable housing projects using containers.
By insulating with materials such as styrofoam and mineral-based “rock wool”, and installing vents, fans or air-conditioning, as per the end user’s needs, Vuthy can create price-effective and liveable spaces.
Vuthy said containers are well-suited to the Cambodian market – especially in the city.
“They are very affordable, they are structurally sound and also weatherproof. They take up only a little space – and they are always available,” he said.
“By reusing and repurposing containers, there are a lot of winners.”
James Whitehead is director of content at www.realestate.com.kh