Nestled behind the graying apartment buildings of central Lod, a colorful stack of residential cuboids is taking shape on the grounds of an abandoned schoolyard.
“Architecture-wise, it’s a very funky thing,” said Effy Rubin, one of the founders of the Ayalim Association. “It’s like playing with Lego.”
Rubin was looking up at a three-story apartment building made of recycled shipping containers, opening its doors to university students with the beginning of the fall semester. The blue, pink and yellow painted complex will be part of his organization’s existing Lod Student Village, which is aiming to transform a city long known for its drugs and crime into a revitalized urban oasis. The Jerusalem Post
took a tour of the construction site with Rubin at the end of September.
Since five young Israelis founded it in 2002, the Ayalim Association has been working to attract the country’s 20-somethings to live in and strengthen struggling communities in the geographic and social periphery, according to the organization.
In addition to its residential campuses in Lod, Ayalim has student villages throughout the North and South – in Karmiel, Acre, Menahemya, Kiryat Shmona, Yeroham, Ashalim, Ofakim, Yachini, Dimona, Arad, Beersheba and soon Sderot.
“Israel has been long characterized by uneven development,” Rubin said, stressing that peripheral areas are less populated and wealthy as the country’s Center. “Lod geographically is not the periphery, but in many other aspects it is.”
Ayalim, Rubin explained, aims to bring young, educated Israelis to areas traditionally considered less desirable, providing them with meaningful connections that encourage them to continue living in these localities.
As in other troubled areas of the country, Lod could benefit from an increased presence of young students and perhaps shed its image as a beacon for the drug trade and poverty, according to Rubin.
Lod has a population of about 70,000, about 30 percent of whom are Arabs. Of the students already living in, or about to live in Ayalim’s student villages in the city, about 10% are from the local Arab community, Rubin said.
Ayalim’s newest complex holds 18 three-room, 60-sq.m. apartments, made up of two shipping containers apiece.
Not only are the apartments equipped with modern facilities and air conditioning, but they also feature private balconies overlooking the rail tracks.
Although these apartments are designated for two single students to share, project architect Einat Leshem said she could envision a young couple and a child living in such a space.
“This is the first project in Israel with shipping containers,” said Leshem, a partner at the architecture firm Box-es, which specializes in residential and retail constructions using shipping containers.
Inside the model apartment is a spacious living room and kitchenette, tastefully decorated with bar stools and IKEA-style furniture. A small corridor leads to a bathroom on the left and a work alcove on the right, followed by the two bedrooms.
Construction on the building only started around Passover, Leshem said.
Building with containers is much faster than the traditional housing construction process, as the contractors “just bring the containers and connect them,” she added.
The ease at which building occurs using the containers allows the country’s leaders to expedite projects and complete their construction in just a few months, according to Rubin.
While from a technical perspective, container construction would allow for an 11-story apartment building, Leshem said that in Israel, the limit is five stories.
Ayalim pays NIS 8,000 to acquire and receive each discarded shipping container, Rubin said. Although this is by no means the first residential shipping container project in the world, it is the first in Israel.
“It’s going to be a trend in Israel to build this way,” Rubin said. “It is cheaper, faster and greener.”
“I don’t know of any other building technique that involves more recycling,” he added.
The 18 container apartments are located in the yard of a former school building, which Ayalim renovated two years ago and opened up as student housing. Adjacent to the container complex and the school building is an abandoned gymnasium, which Rubin said has potential to be turned into a social venue like a pub.
In addition to the plot of land that features the soon-to-be-opened container city as well as the renovated school, Ayalim operates a second campus of the Lod Student Village about half a kilometer away – next to a park that used to be a nighttime haven for drug addicts, Rubin explained. At this campus, Ayalim operates Lod’s only pub.
The goal is to “create an environment so young people would like to stay in Lod,” by transforming the municipality “into a student city – into an Oxford,” Rubin said. Due to its central location, the city is some 15 minutes away from the universities and colleges of about 150,000 students, he added.
All in all, constructing the container city required NIS 6 million, most of which was funded by the Finance Ministry and the remainder by private donors, Rubin said.
A much larger container city was approved in August for Sderot, where Ayalim is building 150 apartments for 300 students attending Sapir College and other southern institutions. This larger project costs NIS 53m., about twothirds of which is being funded by the government.
As far as the Lod project is concerned, however, the opening of the coming academic year will bring 130 students to Ayalim’s residences in the city.
Already there is a waiting list of 60 people to move into the residences there, said Raz Sofer, the manager of the container apartments and a student at Tel Aviv University. Rent at the containers is NIS 640 per student monthly, but requires two hours of community service each week, he explained.
“The necessity of housing in the Dan area is so big,” Sofer added.
While the Lod residences may only be able to hold 130 students at the moment, Rubin said he hopes to increase this figure to between 500 and 700 within three years – achieving a “critical mass.” With the many vacant lots in the area, Rubin said he could envision expanding the current container site using the same design model.
“This is a revolution we are going to make,” Rubin said.