The story of the Delft ECD Training Centre


The Early Childhood Development (ECD) training centre at Delft has a mandate to provide training in support of other ECDs in the area and will benefit many informal ECDs or crèches.

The Training Centre is a passive solar, earth sheltered building out of tyres, cob, compressed earth bricks, ecobricks and glass bottles at the Delft Early Childhood Development (ECD) centre. The design is centered around minimizing the use of cement and concrete whilst showcasing the potential of alternative and sustainable materials. The building feels warm and welcoming amidst a stark social landscape. 

The character of the building is revealed in its hybrid use of natural, recycled and conventional materials and its journey to completion. From the beginning the environment was focused on creating a rich learning environment, starting off with a sustainable building course, progressing under the hands of local community members, interns and volunteers to its full expression as a training centre for early childhood development. 

The training centre was designed by Ashlej Hemraj for the City of Cape Town’s Department of Social Services in consultation with Peter McIntosh from the Natural Building Collective. 

The goal of the Training centre is to provide a space in which ECD practitioners and caregivers are trained to fulfil the developmental needs of the child. The centre will serve as a multipurpose centre of excellence and have a broader community use, such as training and resource centres for crèches.

The thin cement topping over the earth floor at the Delft ECD training centre

Design rationale


The design goal of the project is to demonstrate the effective use of alternative and sustainable materials. While providing a much-needed facility in support of Early Childhood Development, the training centre serves as a living example of the cost effectiveness of alternative and sustainable buildings as well as their potential to exceed the requirements of conventional materials. These requirements include soundness of the building as well as how the building performs thermally being both cool in summer and warm in winter. The thermal performance is further enhanced by the use of passive solar design through the use of thermal mass, insulation and convection. Further the building will demonstrate sustainable building techniques that utilize both the waste-stream and other locally available materials that go some way to providing answers to the challenges faced by all of us.

The compressed earth brick floor at the Delft ECD training centre.


It has been widely accepted that the first 1000 days in a child’s life is critical to their, as well as society-at-large’s health and wellbeing. During this period, children’s brains can form 1,000 neural connections every second and these connections are the building blocks of their future.

In the Cape Town area there are +- 18 000 children, younger than seven, who do not attend an educare. Without pre-school education they are vulnerable to abuse and starting life at a distinct disadvantage without any educational preparation. This is disastrous for these children and the future of SA.

Stimulation, nutrition, exposure to air pollution and protection are listed by UNICEF as vital to ensure proper early childhood development, but “Violence, abuse, neglect and traumatic experiences produce high levels of cortisol – a hormone that triggers the “flight or fight” response to danger. When cortisol levels remain high for too long, they produce toxic stress, which limits brain connectivity in children… When children miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we, as a global community, are perpetuating intergenerational cycles of disadvantage and inequality. Life by life, missed opportunity by missed opportunity, we are increasing the gap between the haves and the have nots. These failures come at a great cost to all of us. A cost measured in poor learning, lower wages, higher unemployment, increased reliance on public assistance and intergenerational cycles of poverty that weigh down economic and social progress for everyone.”

The building will serve as an edu-centre in early childhood development so that carers from informal crèches in Delft and surrounding areas can receive training in early childhood development. If more children can receive proper ECD this cycle can be broken, but first more ECD carers and centres are needed. By providing a stimulating and healthy environment built with natural materials and food gardens on site, the Delft ECD hub is part of a campaign by the city in early intervention with the long-term view of breaking this cycle.

Glass bottle bricks in cob wall


Just like it takes a village to raise a child, it took many hands to complete the process of building the Delft ECD training centre. The funding for the project was provided for by numerous sources.

  • The project was launched by a kind donation from The Sophia Foundation of a R120 000.
  • A further R28 200 was raised by running a month-long sustainable earth and tyre building course in partnership with Guy Williams from Long Way Home. The Cape Peninsula University of Technology sent students to attend.
  • The City of Cape Town provided the majority of the labour through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP). The city also provided the windows and electricity.
  • Greenpop provided trees.
  • We applied to the Lush charity pot for a donation of R45 000.
  • Occasionally we also made use of volunteers, typically sourced from our previous natural building course attendees.
  • Former natural building course participant Brandon and his construction team helped us with a thin protective cement screed over the earthen floor.

The rest of the funding was provided and sourced by the Natural Building Collective:

  • The Natural Building Collective ran a crowdfunding campaign and raised R29 183,82.
  • The Natural Building Collective self-funded the remaining budget of R100 000.
  • The Natural Building Collective also donated four months of its time in site supervision and project management. 

Cost per square meter

The building has a footprint of +- 100m2 with an interior floor space of 60m2. It is tricky to work out cost per square meter for tyre buildings in comparison to conventional buildings because conventional buildings use the footprint of the building to work out the per square meter costs whereas with tyre buildings the convention is to look the usable interior space. But, if we were to look at the footprint of this building the tyre building would be 100m2 and a building with similar interior space built conventionally would be +- 84m2. So, in order to have an accurate cost comparison we will use the 84m2 footprint to work out cost per square meter. The building costs per square meter are R5128 all inclusive. 

Materials used

The Training Centre is a passive solar, earth sheltered building out of tyres, cob, compressed earth bricks, ecobricks and glass bottles at the Delft Early Childhood Development (ECD) centre.

As the Natural Building Collective we built this building in response to the completed early childhood development training centre on which this site is situated in order to demonstrate better use of the materials. Some of the things that we were unable to incorporate at the Delft ECD are demonstrated in this building, for example, load-bearing tyre walls, earth-sheltered buildings, exterior glass bottle walls using natural materials, lowering the use of cement, and making better use of passive solar design.

The walls were built out of +- 700 tyres to create a partially earth-sheltered passive solar building orientated 15’NNW. The rubble from the larger ECD was used to ram the tyres as well as trash from the pavements and the site itself. Some material was donated by contractors looking to dump earth. The interior walls were cobbed and lime-plastered. Glass bottle brick walls were on the Northern aspect picking up morning and afternoon sun in cob with lime plasters. While a small section of the exterior tyre wall is plastered with a durable cement plaster the majority of the exterior of the building was bermed with tyres and planted to lower the use of cement.


Compressed earth bricks (CEB) made on site were used to produce an earth floor with only a thin cement topping as a low-maintenance and durable finish. Thereby eliminating the need for a concrete slab and greatly reducing the carbon footprint of the floor.


The building was also designed with the longest poles we could find in mind; the roof is constructed with boron treated 9m length gum poles with pole purloins in-between and an IBR roof.


The City ended up installing the ceiling, unfortunately without. Unfortunately for us, at some stage the roof will need to be removed and insulation installed. Joy of joys.


The City provided the windows as part of their contribution so that the building tied in with the adjacent Delft ECD. Typically we would use reclaimed windows and doors. 

The story

The story of the Delft ECD training centre is one of innovation and collaboration; bringing together alternative materials, funding methods and ways to construct and never losing hope or sight of our intentions… to create a much-needed learning space for the community in Delft out of sustainable materials.

We hope that this heart energy has been infused into walls and floor and will seep into all interactions there and create transformation. We hope that the story of how the Delft training centre was built will inspire and demonstrate what is possible when determination and the intention to do good and create beauty come together.

Thanks to everybody that contributed whether through funding or volunteering their time and energy.



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