Offgrid humanitarianism ~ Podcast featuring Peter McIntosh

Offgrid vision is a project dedicated to empowering people in developed and developing countries to pursue living off-the-grid through sharing knowledge and experience and raising funds for deserving projects in developing countries.

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Patrick Lunt and Offgrid vision along with partners Biotecture Planet Earth, Earthship Biotecture , Ten Friends, Cuore Attivo and Offgrid Italia have worked on humanitarian projects in Nepal, Malawi and Burkina Faso.

Part of Patrick’s mission is through a podcast with fellow off-the-grid’ders. He recently had a chat with Peter McIntosh from Natural Building Collective about his experience living offgrid and some humanitarian projects that the Natural Building Collective is involved in.   Continue reading

https://www.naturalbuildingcollective.com

The dynamic qualities of African Vernacular Architecture

In this guest post by Jon Sojkowski, he chronicles common misperceptions of African vernacular architecture and how it is being abandoned for the status that comes with living in conventional Western style buildings. He asks whether these modern materials are truly better than the vernacular options.

By Jon Sojkowski

African vernacular architecture is a subject that has had very little attention. The lack of documentation and available data on the internet has led to a severe misunderstanding of a type of architecture that a large percentage of the population in Africa living in on a daily basis. The lack of data has led to negative perceptions regarding African vernacular architecture, mainly that it is temporary, primitive or for the poor. Most people, when they think of a mud hut, get an image of a dilapidated mud structure which is quite small and has a thatch roof. Sadly, this perception exists both inside and outside the African continent, but it is simply not the truth. Continue reading

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Appropriate green building technologies as a catalyst for social change in creating climate change resilient communities

The Lebone project objective is to teach green building and social entrepreneurial skills to the youths and selected individuals from marginalised communities.

The Lebone Village project in the Mangaung Metro Municipality

Lebone Village, established in May 2000, provides a safe haven for orphaned and vulnerable children, and children affected by AIDS and HIV. In addition, Lebone Village also provides services to the poor and marginalised communities in the Mangaung Metro Municipality. Lebone Village is situated on the outskirts of the city of Bloemfontein, in an area called Bloemspruit. In a bid to secure the future of the Lebone youths through skills development, Lebone Village is pioneering a green building project in collaboration with the Centre for Development Support based at the University of the Free State. Lebone Village, through social entrepreneurial activities, is dedicated to bringing hope, dignity and support by providing holistic care to all their beneficiaries. The University of the Free State received grant funding from the Government of Flanders to operationalise the Lebone Village green building project. The grant funding is administrated through the Office of the Accountant General (OAG) in the National Treasury, and forms part of a 5 year programme called Technical and Management Support (TMS). The Lebone Village project is one of several projects in response to the TMS Programme’s Key Result Area 1: Laying the Groundwork for Future Project Design and Implementation.

It is envisaged that this project will be the first stepping stone to actualise the initial vision of Lebone Village to create a mini-village where children can learn to be self-sustainable and live in self-created “family units”. The project objective is to teach green building and social entrepreneurial skills to the Lebone youths and selected individuals from marginalised communities. A three week building internship will be hosted by Los Técnicos from 24 November to 12 December 2014. Los Técnicos are leading pioneers in green building technologies in Guatemala and Latin America. Los Técnicos will be assisted by building apprentices affiliated to a local non-profit company Start Living Green.  During the three week workshop, 15 trainers and more than 50 interns will build a climate-resilient arts, crafts and cultural hub that can be utilised for a variety of entrepreneurial activities. Natural Building Collective is providing additional natural building support for the Lebone Village project. The intention of this project is to set the stage for a policy dialogue on pro-poor green building implementation in developing countries. The arts, crafts and cultural hub is designed in such a way that it can serve as inter-continental global flagship project on how green building practices can lead to less reliance on government intervention, while creating an environment conducive to self-sustainability and cultural preservation while opening up opportunities for green social entrepreneurial activities. All documentation, filming, manuals and building plans will be open source and made available for use to anyone interested in replicating the hub. For more information on the building project contact Anri Holder (anri@lebonevillage.com)

 

Lebone affiliates

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New directions in informal settlement upgrading and community-led sustainable building practices – The Freedom Square shack replacement project – Day 18 (Thursday 2 Oct’14)

I came to learn how to build a cob wall; instead I learned the story of my life before I even stepped onto the building site.

It was day 18 at the Freedom Square shack replacement building site in Bloemfontein, but my first day on the premises. The walls of Lientjie’s new house were already about three quarters completed. The first one and a half meters from the floor up was made of compounded tyres and solid cob packed firmly into and onto a reinforced metal grid. From this solid section of wall up toward the beams, the building team has started to experiment with decorative wall building techniques such as inserting colored glass bottles in patterns into the cob and carving edgings onto the walls. The total effect is of a mud wall inserted with an array of miniature skylights. It was still early morning and the sun spilled through the little skylights in mesmerizing colour.

So how does one build a cob wall? In an ideal world it would be with a rigorously tested cob mix of course. However, in this part of Freedom Square location life is hardly ideal. Here lives the abject economic disadvantaged and marginalized, those whose only option is to make do with what they have. Even the earth lacks succor and consists of 70% clay. The Qala Phelang Tala building team, as change agent and mentor, has therefore devised a method of ensuring an optimal cob mix, by mixing in a ratio of dry horse dung and fine sand.

By now each member of the regular building team has established their niche. While Ellen Maphalane and Tiisettso Chobokoane were making bottle bricks, Abraham Nkotywa was layering the wall with cob mix and finished bottle bricks. Mokoena Maphalane carried buckets of clay, horse dung, sand and water to the mixing area and all stomped the cob mix together. Tiisetso two year old niece, Pimelo, was following suit and industriously heaving water back and forth in her small porridge bowl. Anita was decorating the cob walls with her carvings while Oretile, the little boy from across the street, was avidly watching her every move. He was totally engrossed by Anita’s unique skill and the beautiful wall art that she was creating.

1.Tiisetso showing the Occupational Therapy students the finer art of refining details on the wall.

Tiisetso showing the Occupational Therapy students the finer art of refining details on the wall.

Each member of this seemingly ragamuffin building team has his/her own story of hardship and grief, adversity and woe. Abraham is 62 and has suffered from cancer, interspersed with periods of remission, throughout is life. His four children all passed away young, two as babies and two during toddlerhood. His wife also passed away of cancer. Two years ago, during a particularly robust bout of full blown cancer, he prepared himself for dying and bequeathed his house to his brother. Abraham survived the cancer, but found himself homeless upon finally being released from the hospital. He now lives in a tiny, battered shack at the back of his brother’s house, the house that once belonged to Abraham and that he had given to his brother. Abraham used to be a builder and his natural skill is evident in the perfect symmetry of the wall that he is busy building, his bare hands the only tools of his trade.

Mokoena is only 28, but was born with a heart defect. He suffered a stroke at 26 and is now partially impaired on the left side of his body. Mokoena, physically supported by his mother, Ellen, walks 5km every morning from their shack on the other side of Freedom Square location to the building site. For Mokoena life has gained new meaning since he started participating in the building activities. He spent his childhood on the periphery of normal youthful activity. As a result of his weak heart, he could never participate in games and sports with his friends and school mates. Now he is in the thick of things, actively contributing hard labour toward building a house for a fellow community member, while at the same time learning the skills that will enable him to one day built his own house for himself and his mother.

Waldo and Hugo joining building activities in the school holidays; here Mokoena and Abram show them the 'seretse jive' (mud dance).

Waldo and Hugo joining building activities in the school holidays; here Mokoena and Abram show them the ‘seretse jive’ (mud dance).

Abraham and Mokoena both came to be a part of the Qala Phelang Tala building mentorship programme as a result of being out-patients at the University of the Free State’s Occupational Therapy clinic in Rocklands location. Their presence is testimony to the effort and dedication of Heidi Morgan and Bronwyn Kemp to reintroduce their patients back into their communities as fully functional members, able to contribute towards and participate in living a full life.

As for the humble story of my life – well, I was standing in the doorway of Lientjie’s existing shack dwelling and hesitantly introduced myself to the three adolescents inside. They courteously reciprocated and introduced themselves as   Thembeke (18), Lonkululeko (16) and Kenneth (15) and invited me in. We chatted tentatively for a while and I asked about the beads they were wearing. It turns out that they are a trio of aspiring sangomas. The calling from the ancestors runs in their family and each one of their lives is currently a conundrum of figuring out how to heed their calling, appease the ancestors, while still having a normal adolescent life and attend to school and studies. After about an hour or so Kenneth produced a small, vibrantly patterned bag and benevolently offered to throw the bones for me. I cautiously obliged. He asked me to blow three times into the bag. A short ritual ensued of shaking the bag, repeating my name and singing softly. He emptied the little bag on the floor in front of me.

The Freedom Square Shack Replacement crew on site, day 18.

The Freedom Square Shack Replacement crew on site, day 18.

I could not help but be transfixed by the contents that now lay scattered at my feet. Among the bones, shells, beads and trinkets lay four large steel nails. The first thing I noticed was that they all lay with their sharp ends facing away from me. I remember thinking: “that must be a good thing!”. According to my trio of hosts, this was indeed the case. It meant that there are no people in my life who actively wished me harm. As for the rest of the story told by the bones – all I am prepared to say is that it cut disconcertingly close to the bone. However, I somehow doubt that I will consent to having the bones thrown for me again. The prospect of those nails potentially facing me with their sharp ends next time is too dreadful to contemplate. Quit while ahead, me thinks…

Contributed by Amanda de Gouveia on behalf of QPT. Photos courtesy of QPT. Please visit their Facebook page for more photos of the day.

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Amanda de GouveiaAmanda de Gouveia has been a research assistant at the Centre for Development Support at the University of the Free State since 2010, where she has mostly been involved in research projects on social development and local economic development. This has refined a unique repertoire of research skills, both qualitative and quantitative. She has also Masters degree in Research Psychology.

https://www.naturalbuildingcollective.com

Lebone Village launch

Imagine being outside on a chilly Free State winter morning with the sun just coming out and starting to gently warm your body. Now imagine being told to take off your shoes in order to trudge in icy cold mud. I glanced at my fellow volunteers and I saw a collective dissent quietly dawn on our group – this is not what we signed up for!

Mandela day

It was the morning of 18 July, Mandela Day, and we were all gathered at Lebone Village on the outskirts of Bloemfontein to volunteer our 67 minutes for the orphans. We were standing in a circle around Peter McIntosh, who was valiantly demonstrating to us the endeavor of making adobe bricks.

Peter McIntosh demonstrating how to make cob

Peter McIntosh demonstrating how to make cob

The mix using ingredients easily available for the project was chosen after rigorous testing. According to Peter, the mix will differ in every situation, depending on the composition of the ingredients used. The chosen mix for the adobe bricks at Lebone Village was as follows: collect two parts red earth, 2 parts sand with rubble, one part fine sand and two parts water in the centre of large piece of 25” thick canvas material.

Now mix it all into clay with your feet by walking back and forth through the cold, wet mixture. When the cob mixture starts to flatten out, pull the canvas up-and-in towards you from the corners to bring the clay mixture back into the centre of the canvas and into a manageable heap. Now start stepping onto it again. The clay is the right consistency when you can make a ball with your hands and pull it apart into two separate pieces without it crumbling. Adding straw to the mud mixture assures bricks that are well insulated against cold and heat, the more straw you add, the better insulated your bricks.

Adding water

Adding water

Adding straw binds everything together and adds insulation value

Adding straw adds insulation value

Lots of people turned up

Lots of people turned up

 

While the majority of us were still apprehensively contemplating the prospect of braving the cold and mud with naked feet, one person rose to the occasion without hesitation. In the spirit of “first being a follower in order to be a leader”, Itumeleng Santo started pounding the mud into clay with some über cool dance moves. Itumeleng is an out-patient at the University of the Free State’s Dept of Occupational Therapy’s clinic at the MUCPP offices in Rocklands location. He is severely impaired due to a brain injury that he suffered during an assault. For Itumeling, taking part in the Mandela Day activities at Lebone Village was therefore also a day of getting therapy without being given therapy. The Dept of Occupational Therapy vision is to support and treat their disabled and impaired patients in such a way that they will be able to return to their families and communities and be able to fully participate in community activities again. The aim is for such patients to become fully functional individuals who can partake in economic activity and contribute towards their own livelihoods.

The MUCPP clinic of the Dept of Occupational Therapy is not only for patient care and therapy, but it also serves the wider community as a place where youth can hang around after school and in this way be kept off the streets. Heidi Morgan and Bronwyn Kemp, who run the clinic, aspire to teach these children skills that will help them to create their own employment upon completing their school careers. Learning how to make adobe bricks and tire pounding for alternative and natural building practices are two such skills.

This notion of self-empowerment of the impaired, disabled and destitute was the golden thread that ran through the activities at Lebone Village on the morning of Mandela Day. Stakeholders from support institutions to the disabled came from all over the Free State region to learn the new green building techniques of making adobe bricks and pounding tires. These are skills that they intend to take back to their home towns and villages, skills that they hope will enable them to become self-sufficient and self-employed, able to earn money and make a living for themselves, without being a burden to their families.

Getting our feet dirty

Getting our feet dirty

Peter McIntosh demonstrating putting cob into the brick mold

Peter McIntosh demonstrating putting cob into the brick mold

With the ice now literally and figuratively broken by Itumeleng, the rest of us started to get into the spirit of the day. The extra brave ones took of their shoes and started pounding cob with their bare feet. The more modest traded their shoes for gumboots to get the job done.

Some started working the cob with their hands. Anita put on some vibey music and soon the day was in full swing. Volunteers started forming little groups, each group working their cob on their own piece of canvas. Some people would collect the pounded cob and compact it into wooden molds set out by Peter for this purpose. These mudbricks would then be left to dry in the sun for several days, where after they will be ready to use for building.

Peter McIntosh demonstrating putting cob into the brick mold

Peter McIntosh demonstrating putting cob into the brick mold

The teaching of green building techniques to the greater Mangaung community also served as the launch of the Lebone Village Climate Resilient Arts, Crafts and Cultural Hub and was initiated by Qala Phelang Tala, a non-profit organization based in Bloemfontein and associated with the Centre for Development Support at the University of the Free State. Qala Phelang Tala is Sesotho for “Start Living Green” and is the brain child of Anita Venter, a researcher at the Centre for Development Support. QPT strives to empower “change agents” through social entrepreneurship in order to create systems addressing housing, food security, water efficiency and energy independence that are resilient to climate change. Their slogan is “Learn by doing!” This means that they not only preach green building and sustainable, environmental friendly living, but they also practice, implement and teach these techniques. QPT head hunted and hosted Peter McIntosh from Natural Building Collective, who is one of only a handful of natural building experts in South Africa. His experience in sustainable living practices includes sustainable agriculture, off-grid energy systems and an array of natural building techniques, all of which is in fruition on Berg-en-Dal outside Ladismith in the Klein Karoo, a farm owned and managed by the community and educational non-profit the Klein Karoo Sustainable Drylands Permaculture Project, where he is a resident and member.

Some of the mudbricks that were made on the day drying in the sun

Some of the mudbricks that were made on the day drying in the sun

Contributed by Amanda de Gouveia on behalf of QPT. Photos courtesy of QPT. Please visit their Facebook page for more photos of the day.

Amanda de Gouveia

Amanda de Gouveia has been a research assistant at the Centre for Development Support at the University of the Free State since 2010, where she has mostly been involved in research projects on social development and local economic development. This has refined a unique repertoire of research skills, both qualitative and quantitative. She has also Masters degree in Research Psychology.

 

 

https://www.naturalbuildingcollective.com

Breaking news: Six day course at Khula Dhamma, near East London 25 – 31 October 2014

I have been contracted to facilitate a six day course at Khula Dhamma, near East London at the end of October. This is in addition to the accredited course that I’m hosting at Magic Mountains retreat, near Barrydale in the Western Cape at the start of October. Both courses will cover the same basic topics, but you will be working with somewhat different materials. So if you can’t join us for one, maybe you can join us for the other course… Cobworkshop-KDRC

 

 

 

Contact Khula Dhamma directly at kdrc@khuladhamma.org to book for the course there.

https://www.naturalbuildingcollective.com

The reflections and observations of a sustainable practitioner on the recent International Union of Architects World Congress (UIA) in Durban

As a senior lecturer in the Architectural Technology department at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology I get the opportunity to write and present papers at conferences, congresses and symposiums, with the benefit to see what is happening in the field and to consider where my own work is situated and where it could be going. Last week I was privileged to attend and present at the International Union of Architects World Congress in Durban. Besides the wonderful weather, I got to experience being part of an international discussion on practice and education, attended by about 4500 people from around the globe.

In the words of the conference organizers, the theme was ‘OTHERWHERE – looking elsewhere for other ways of creating a better future. The subthemes were ‘resilience, ecology and values’. ‘Resilience‘ explored questions around ideas of emergence, poverty alleviation, and the spatial economy. The second subtheme of ecology sought to “acknowledge the role of the architect in a bigger, interlinked, and systemic network and encourage a longer term view in the design of the built environment”. The third subtheme, ‘values‘, explored approached to “practice in Africa with a feeling that the agency of external donors needs to be tempered to benefit local inhabitats – who are currently being excluded from their own self-determination”. These themes resonated with my own experience as an educator and someone that is passionate about natural building.

The underlying tone of the Congress was self-reflexive, and a lot of presenters questioned the role of the profession while almost demanding it to become more responsive to both social and climatic issues facing the planet. There was a call to move from the “starchitect” syndrome to a more huminatarian and appropriate technological approach. This call resonated strongly with the paper I presented there with Rudolf Perold entitled “Towards Entrepreneur-Activist Architectural Practice”. We started with this quote:

“For we may soon find that we have too many architects skilled at designing museums and mansions and too few able to work with indigent people and communities in need of basic housing, sanitation, and security” (Fisher 2008). 

One of the key note presentations was by Toyo Ito, winner of the Pritzker Prize in 2013. The form of the buildings presented could have one swooning, but the underlying tectonic principles of that form took so much steel and concrete that one cringes at the environmental effect. The formal ideas of most of the buildings were apparently inspired by nature and natural principles, for example, the way in which a tree grows or the bones in a human body connect. But that is where the analogy to the natural ended for me. Such a form executed in steel and concrete, in my opinion feels entirely inappropriate and becomes an empty albeit beautiful response.

But then there were also keynote presentations by the likes of Cameron Sinclair who started Architecture for Humanity in 1999 together with Kate Stohr, with a cellphone and laptop and one or two projects. Currently the organisation is involved in designing, developing, managing and financing the construction of a variety of projects in over 20 countries (Aaronson & Architecture for Humanity, 2012). Their modus operandi is to embed architects on site that volunteer and help restore or rebuild community facilities, often in the aftermath of disaster. What wonderful work they have been doing over the past decade or so!

Another personal highlight was from keynote speaker Francis Kéré who you probably know of if you are reading this blog. Francis Kéré came from a small village in Burkina Faso, studied in Germany, then returned to his own country to work in his own community. He went on to win the Aga Khan award for Architecture with his very first building! He does work similar to that of Architecture for Humanity, but he works mostly in African countries, almost exclusively with natural materials and has a deep understanding of local passive design strategies. It is worth reading the “about” page on the website, and browsing the projects that they have done and are involved in.

There were many “side shows” at the congress. I presented in two of these with my colleague Rudolf Perold. The first, was the Architectural Education Forum (AEF), a locally initiated forum which “critically discuss how to improve architectural educational practice here and now and to exchange relevant information. Its main focus is issues that are relevant to architectural education in Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa, which includes global and regional concerns. Its membership consists mainly of teaching staff from schools of architecture from over Africa, but there has also been support and interest from other associations concerned with architectural education based on other continents” (Janse van Rensburg, A. 2014).

The presentation that followed ours in the AEF was by Professor Vasanth K Bhat from Bengaluru, Karnataka, India, where he is Dean at Acharya’s School of Architecture and has his own practice. He presented “A Case for Inclusion of Appropriate Building Technology and Sustainable Building Design in Undergraduate Curriculum in Developing Countries” and discussed the inclusion of local earth technologies into the undergraduate curriculum. Often architecture programs follow a very generic curriculum without specific local content and he is making a concerted effort to include locally relevant technologies.

Our second presentation was for the Global Studio. This studio focuses on work in and for communities. Again there was much discussion that resonated with our paper about the architect becoming a more active participant in society. We discussed the idea of “architectural professionals that have re-defined the manner in which they work, and for whom they work, specifically addressing informality and poverty in their practice. These professionals are changing from being predominantly pre-determined problem solvers into a problem identifiers or project initiators” (Cary & Public Architecture, 2010, p.xii). This change in work approach asks of the architect to become an entrepreneur, identifying the project and problem and then finding the funding to pay for both the professional services and the execution of project. A place has opened, locally and internationally, for this new kind of professional – one that works on the ground, close to the needs of the broader community”. (Voulgarelis and Perold, 2014)

In my opinion, UIA 2014 was all-and-all successful and gives me hope for the future of (earth) architecture in the world.

 

Sources

Aaronson, D., & Architecture for Humanity (Eds.). (2012). Design Like you Give a Damn (p. 335). New York, New York, USA: Abrams.

Fisher, T. (2008). Public-interest architecture: a needed and inevitable change. Berkeley Prize. Retrieved April 02, 2014, from http://www.berkeleyprize.org/endowment/essays-and-articles-on-the-social-art-of-architecture/tom-fisher-essay

Van Rensburg, A. (2014). Architectural Education Forum. (p.1). Internal discussion document. WITS. South Africa.

Voulgarelis, H. and Perold, R. (2014) Towards Entrepreneur-Activist Architectural Practice. International Union of Architects World Congress. Durban, South Africa.

 

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