Q&A with Anita Venter, from Start Living Green grassroots development in Bloemfontein

In honour of women’s day we asked Anita Venter a few questions about her grassroots development initiative using sustainable building methods in Bloemfontein. We have great admiration for the shack replacement initiative and what she has done to empower her change agents to become more self-sufficient and build community in her local context. We first got to know of the work Anita does when she invited Peter to participate in the Lebone Arts and cultural centre, a collaborative project with Los Tecnicos in 2014. We were also honoured to host her and six of her change agents on one of our natural building courses in 2015.

How did you first get involved in natural/sustainable building? Tell us about the journey.

Since the early 2000s I have done many research studies on housing from socio-economic and policy perspectives. Continue reading

https://www.naturalbuildingcollective.com

Guest post: Hybrid alternative and natural building blocks at the Delft ECD (Early Childhood Development Centre)

In Delft, an impoverished township on the outskirts of the Cape Flats, local government is changing its approach to building early childhood development centres with a pioneering project showcasing a hybrid of natural building methods and up-cycled waste materials.

By Mary Anne Constable

This post first appeared on Earthworks Magazine in February 2017. We are re-posting it here with the permission of  Young Africa Publishing and author Mary-Anne Constable. 

Peter McIntosh, founder of the Natural Building Collective was the project coordinator for the alternative materials (natural and recycled) portion of the Delft ECD build.

Delft ECD_Natural building collective

The new Delft ECD (Early Childhood Development Centre) represents the first time that government – in this case the City of Cape Town – has significantly integrated alternative and unconventional building methods for the construction of a public building.

The considered design of the Delft ECD building is an example that will make an essential contribution to the development of South Africa’s youngest residents. The alternative building materials, which include both natural methods (compressed earth bricks and cob) and recycled waste materials (ecobricks, tyres, glass bottles), deviate from conventional brick and concrete, while creating a healthy environment.  Continue reading

https://www.naturalbuildingcollective.com

Transition Ethics: The Art of Compromise

Do we as ethical natural builders have a right to deny someone a home simply based on the argument of its purity? Surely it’s about having the humility to acknowledge that sustainability is about economy and social justice as much as it is about ecology. Scott Gallant from Rancho Mastatal in Costa Rica writes that the transition ethic says that no one is going from zero to sustainable overnight. Making the transition takes time and, we have to meet people where they are at.

This post first appeared on Numundo on 16 February 2016. We are re-posting it here with the permission of  Shayna Gladstone and author Scott Gallant.

To introduce the post, we’d like to share with you why we were so excited to read Scott’s post. Written by Scott Gallant from Rancho Mastatal Sustainability Education Center in Costa Rica, the post is based on his experience teaching the three permaculture ethics during the center’s Permaculture Design Courses, and the realization that a fourth ethic is required in order to facilitate a conversation about compromise.  They filled the gap with the Transition Ethic. Scott quotes Jessi Bloom and Dave Boehnlein, authors of Practical Permaculture, who acknowledge that “the transition ethic says that no one is going from zero to sustainable overnight. Making the transition takes time.” He goes on to say that “We have to meet people where they are at.  We must understand their cultural context.” Continue reading

https://www.naturalbuildingcollective.com

How to incorporate passive solar design in your building, using thermal mass and insulation.

Passive solar design can dramatically reduce our demands on fossil fuels and other forms of energy input, allowing our buildings to become producers and not consumers of energy and resources, supporting us in a healthier more comfortable abundant way.

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Passive solar design is the starting point of sustainable building. Once one understands the basic principles of using the abundant natural renewable resources at our disposal we become more creative in our approach to design, more in tune and observant, reconnecting us with the natural rhythms that surround and sustain us, if only we would pay attention. Sustainable buildings save money, reduce your carbon footprint and provide a healthy living environment, transforming buildings from consumers of energy to producers and forging buildings that meet our needs.

From a permaculture perspective, incorporating these aspects into the design of your home are excellent examples of several permaculture design principles. To mention the most obvious: Observing and interacting with your environment to make the most of the sun’s migration, catching and storing energy, using and valuing renewable resources and services, integrating functions and elements rather than segregating them and obtaining a yield from the planet’s most abundant energy source, the sun.

Passive Solar Design uses the energy provided by the sun and stored in the earth. First we need to look at how this energy is utilized by defining insulation and thermal mass and then look at the strategies of how to incorporate them into our designs.

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

https://www.naturalbuildingcollective.com

Owner-builder journey ~ Franz Muhl: Energy flows where attention goes

In this edition of the Owner-builder journey, Franz Muhl writes about a mud brick addition to his Scarborough home: “Let me build a home from fertile materials that is beautiful and healthy to live in, have a very low footprint and would grow a forest if you left it.”

Franz 1

Five years ago, Peter McIntosh gave me +- 900 sun-baked mud bricks, for an extension to my house. Franz 3With little start up money, a trickle of income, some plans on google sketch up, a pickaxe and, most importantly, plenty of time, I finally started the process a year ago.

 

At foundation level, with the skills that I had at the time, I used clay-fired bricks and a bitumen coat for damp-proofing. Franz 4In March, I headed off to Berg-en-dal for a crash course with Peter. He traded his skills and knowledge in natural building for mine in brewing beer. To take clay, sand, water and a bit of straw in the right proportions and work it into a material for building, was a big revelation for me. Continue reading

https://www.naturalbuildingcollective.com

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

https://www.naturalbuildingcollective.com

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

Mandela day workshops in Bloemfontein

Lebone Mandela day workshopsJoin Peter McIntosh in making adobe bricks for the Lebone Climate-resilient arts, crafts and cultural hub in Bloemfontein on Mandela Day, 18 July. Qala Phelang Tala, the organisation behind Lebone village, is a South African social initiative focusing on sustainable living environments for the poor.

The name Qala Phelang Tala is derived from the Sesotho language, which is one out of 11 official languages in South Africa. The direct translation means ‘start living green’. The aim behind this naming is to influence the perceptions and practices in housing, sustainable human settlements, and water, energy and food security through practical examples or possibilities.

 

Image and text from QPT.

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