Seah Liang Chiang has spent a decade working in the IT field. But after watching the Netflix show “Tiny House Nation”, Seah decided to make a change in his career. He has set his sights on becoming a hotelier – specifically, building small hotels out of shipping containers.
Seah and his wife Lauren launched a hotel chain called Singapore Container Hotel, and in 2020, they opened their first hotel in an industrial area in central Singapore. They went to open another hotel in Singapore’s famous Hell-themed park. In both hotels, the living space consists of a single shipping container.
But Sieh still dreamed of something bigger: he wanted to build a luxury hotel out of four double-decker shipping containers.
“I wanted to dispel the notion that recycling shipping containers is a cheap experiment,” Seah told Insider.
This month, Seah launched his third hotel location, called Garden Pod, in Gardens by the Bay, a 101-hectare park with views of the iconic Marina Bay Sands. It took about two years to build the hotel.
Seah’s first step was to purchase shipping containers, which make up the hotel’s main living space. Seih said he bought 10 containers from a container yard in western Singapore.
The hotel was designed by local architecture firm Laud. In early 2020, Seah started building the hotel with a team of architects and engineers. It is estimated that he spent about 1 million Singapore dollars, or about $700,000, to build the complex.
Seih said the containers, which are 2.4 meters or about 7.8 feet long, cost about S$8,000 each.
The first step was to make sure the containers were strong enough to convert them into living spaces. In the yard, the containers were chipped and reinforced with steel beams.
Next, the team installed aluminum frames into the cut-out sections of the containers. Heat-moistened glass, which can withstand the force of a container being lifted into the air, is installed in these frames.
The hotel structure is built on site in Gardens by the Bay. The floor was flattened and reinforced slabs and iron bars were used to fortify the ground to support the weight of the containers.
In order to operate the hotel in the park, Seah has to pay rent to Gardens by the Bay. Seah declined to disclose the park’s rental costs.
A representative from Gardens by the Bay told Insider that commercial arrangements are determined by factors such as market rental rates and the “total value provided to visitors.” The actor did not comment on how much the park’s rental costs.
“The Garden Pod is a pop-up hotel concept developed by Gardens by the Bay with the Shipping Container Hotel,” the representative said. “We are always open to new proposals from business partners to provide new and enjoyable experiences for our visitors.”
The hotel is not a permanent building in Gardens by the Bay. Seah built the hotel in a modular way so that it could be reassembled elsewhere.
“I had to be able to remove the steel beams – they can’t be cast in concrete,” Sih said.
One of the most striking features of each loft is the spiral staircase, which Sieh likened to a sculpture. The hotel has four stairs in total, each of which was raised after the construction of the first floor of the hotel.
Seeh said the hotel was equipped with fireproof walls and ceilings in accordance with the guidelines of the Singapore Civil Defense Force.
Seih said electrical wires should be hidden inside the walls to prevent fire hazards in the hotel. Rockwool was also inserted into the walls so that it was not too hot inside the container, especially in the tropical weather of Singapore.
Sieh 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 buildings.
The interior of each loft is designed with a modern touch. Marble countertops and floor-to-ceiling windows create the impression of spacious living space.
Each loft is 70 square metres, and has a large outdoor patio, bedroom with en-suite bathroom, living area and dining space.
Accommodation for the night is not cheap – it costs 600 SGD to accommodate four guests.
Thiang Yong Chan, a guest who stayed at the hotel in September, said the loft was not the “typical small container” and that it would fit in with more established hotels.
“Nice place for a short vacation,” Thiang wrote in a Google review. She added that one of the downsides to the hotel is the lack of privacy due to the long glass windows.
Seah said that while building the shipping container hotel complex was challenging, it was worth it, as it is “the closest thing we have to living off the grid.”
Seah said it is expensive and tedious to build a tiny house structure in Singapore – the opposite of what people usually look for in a mobile micro-living.
“A lot of people are drawn to the hotel because they are intrigued by the closest thing we live to off the grid,” Sih said. “I’m building these hotels so that people can experience living in a small house in the city.”