The buzzing building site at the Ulwazi Educare in Delft, Cape Town, has set the tone for what is promising to be the largest tyre building in South Africa. The early childhood development centre (ECD) was designed in collaboration with award-winning sustainable architect Paul Marais and will demonstrate the innovative use of natural and sustainable building materials. Most of the building materials are recycled and reclaimed, including almost 2,000 tyres, ecobricks, cob, glass bottles, reclaimed materials from the film industry, and reclaimed doors and windows where possible.
This photo shows the completed tyre wall at Ulwazi educare.

Back corner of the school showing the completed tyre wall and manhole windows with climbing rungs for the children.

Project description

Ulwazi Educare is a registered non-profit organisation focusing on early childhood development, in Delft, Cape Town. The school is built from old shipping containers and provides for 120 children. Patiswa Patience Bangani is the founder of the organisation and headmistress of the school. It opened in 1998 with the stated intention:

To protect the children from child abuse, drugs and to fight poverty. We are looking after the children whose mothers are working and leave them with unemployed fathers, neighbours, immediate family members or alone. We specialise in caring for children from the age of 2 years to 6 years.

However, due to a lack of funding the school lacked the necessary facilities to give the children the nurturing start to life that would lead to positive futures for the children. The facility was in urgent need of an upgrade including new classrooms, toilets, and other buildings in support of the ECD. These containers will be repurposed and refurbished, and the ECD’s use will expand to cater for senior citizens, community outreach programmes, and support groups.

This photo shows the interior of the kitchen container at Ulwazi Educare

The interior of the kitchen container at Ulwazi Educare.

Building progress, techniques, and materials

Shortly after work in Helderberg Nature Reserve was completed, Ulwazi’s construction started at the beginning of October 2021 with Rob, the site foreman, and help from a team trained at Helderberg, as well as labour sourced locally by Shaun Solomon from Sugarleaf construction.

This photo shows the tyre wall under construction at the Helderberg Nature Reserve.

The tyre wall under construction at the Helderberg Nature Reserve.

This is a photo of the construction crew at Ulwazi Educare

The construction crew at Ulwazi Educare, including Will the engineer, Rob the site foreman, Emma the architect, Shaun Solomon, and Peter McIntosh.

Thus far, the sustainable and recycled construction materials include:

  • Over 1,800 used tyres from the government depot in Atlantis were utilized. The first load of 1,000 tyres were delivered by the Waste Bureau. The tyres are laid in rows and rammed with compactable earth till they are solid or, ‘pumped up’. Each row requires the tyres to be of the same depth when laid flat, so tyres with a depth of 265 mm were selected for the entire tyre wall including the foundations. Once compacted, the tyres had a depth of 300 mm.
This photo shows a tyre wall being packed out with cob

A tyre wall packed out with cob.

  • The fill material for the tyres is a mixture of recycled building waste and earth from an excavated site, which created an easily compacted material.
This photo shows the first two courses of tyres laid out.

The second row of the tyre foundation laid out.

  • Many of the reclaimed window and door frames were located fairly close to the site and will be restored and used in the building.
This photo shows a reclaimed glass door that will be used in Ulwazi

A reclaimed glass door that will be restored.

  • Cob, a mixture of sand, clay, and straw, was used for the pack-out of the walls constructed from tyres, glass bottles, and ecobricks. The first type of clay we tested failed, but we are very grateful to Farmer Angus from Spier who donated 30 cubes of a good-quality clay.
  • A few thousand ecobricks will be used to fill the gaps between tyres. They were sourced through outreach to local schools and individual donations and drop-offs at the Willow Arts Collective in Observatory.
  • Glass bottles were sourced from a recycling firm.
  • The outside walls will get an earthen plaster reinforced with cement to ensure that the walls are easy to maintain while the inside walls will get a lime plaster.

Most of these materials are available from local sources at a low financial and environmental cost. The use of these materials also make sense from a comfort level as they are inherently thermally efficient (thermal mass, insulation and convection). The combination of these materials with passive solar design will ensure that the interior is cool in summer and warm in winter.

A couple of CPD-accredited short courses were held for architects in collaboration with STADIO. Passionate individuals and former participants of our natural building courses have volunteered on site, and we will be soliciting support from volunteers again in the future. At present, the ring-beam above the tyre wall is being completed after which the roof will be constructed.

Follow the project’s progress on Facebook.

Project goal and mission

The project’s goal is to create an inspirational, healthy, environmentally-sound, and safe place for the children, that speaks to the community. Our mission is to demonstrate the effective use of alternative and sustainable materials to provide a model for a more sustainable approach to buildings that are cost effective and exceed the requirements of conventional materials, while providing a much-needed facility in support of early childhood development.

This is a 3-dimensional image of the completed Ulwazi.

A 3-dimensional image of the completed Ulwazi.

This shows the architectural plan for Ulwazi Educare.

The architectural plan for Ulwazi Educare.

Project motivation

Buildings are the largest energy consumers and greenhouse gases emitters, both in developed and developing countries. While the global production of cement is the third-largest source of anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide after fossil fuels and land-use change (Andrew 2018). Yet, developing countries are facing massive housing shortages and a general lack of infrastructure.

The 2011 census in South Africa showed that the number of informal dwellings had increased to about 1.9 million from 1.4 million in 1996. This represented about 13% of all households in the country. There is also a lack of educational facilities. For example, in the Cape Town area there are +- 18,000 children, younger than seven, who do not attend an educare. Without pre-school education, these children are vulnerable to abuse and starting life at a disadvantage without any educational preparation. Sustainable building materials and techniques can minimise the building industry’s contribution to greenhouse gasses while creating much-needed infrastructure that serves the community on multiple levels.

Why sustainable building?

Sustainable building refers to the use of materials in the building process that is locally sourced, natural, and kind to the environment. Sustainable buildings typically produce much of their own energy through the smart use of materials and combination of passive solar design features to enhance insulation and thermal mass properties. As a result, these buildings are more sustainable as they have a lower carbon footprint, not only during the building process, but for the duration of its lifespan. By their nature, these buildings have a more positive social impact as they do not rely on purchasing materials with a high embodied energy; thus contributing to local job creation and training.

Natural materials come from nature, and the building thus connects its users to the earth that it came from. The materials are alive, healthy and breathe and the spaces that they create are simple, yet dynamic and elegant in nature; seamlessly integrated with surrounding spaces, including food gardens and the natural environment. The building will demonstrate sustainable building techniques that utilize both the waste-stream and other locally available materials.

Why Delft?

Delft is a township on the outskirts of Cape Town. It is a densely populated area and in 2000 the population was estimated at between 25,000 and 92,000 inhabitants. It is notorious for its high crime rate, substandard schools, lack of jobs, and numerous government-built housing projects. Many residents have not finished high school. Official unemployment levels are at about 43% (although unofficially, this might be much higher) (Wikipedia 2018).

Collaboration is one of the Natural Building Collective’s guiding principles, and during our last two early childhood development projects in Delft we have built firm relationships with role players that create a lot of potential. For example, through our relationship with the City of Cape Town we are able to provide skills training and make use of local members of the community.

This photo shows the internal artwork panel at the first Delft ECD featuring tyres, cob, and glass bottles.

One of the internal artwork panels between the classrooms at the Delft ECD, featuring tyres and glass bottles encased in cob.

This photo shows a colourful play wall constructed of exposed tyres and ecobricks.

The bubble wall at the Delft ECD, built from tyres and ecobricks.

This photo shows a wall with a tree from natural plaster with a straw bale bench. It serves as a place for storytelling at the first Delft ECD.

The interior of the first Delft ECD, featuring the ‘storytelling tree’. The wall is built from tyres, straw bales, cob and natural plasters.

This photo shows a wall constructed from tyres and glass bottles with an earthen plaster.

The interior of the ECD training centre in Delft, featuring the tyre and glass bottle wall with natural plasters.

This photo shows local labourers in front of a wall constructed from cob and ecobricks in the first Delft ECD

Local labourers in front of a wall constructed from cob and ecobricks in the first Delft ECD.

Our partnerships help to generate interest, bring in new skills and energy and expand the reach of our message. This project will be the third sustainable building dedicated to early childhood development in Delft — a body of work dedicated to demonstrating innovative and sustainable solutions through the provision of educare centres in Cape Town whilst mitigating the impact of the building industry on a fragile climate.

Stimulation, nutrition, exposure to air pollution and protection are listed by UNICEF as vital to ensure proper early childhood development. Unfortunately, an environment characterised by violence, abuse, neglect, and traumatic experiences produce high levels of cortisol – a hormone that triggers the “flight or fight” response to danger. Toxic stress, which limits brain connectivity in children, is produced when cortisol levels remain high for too long. Consequently, intergenerational cycles of disadvantage and inequality are perpetuated when children miss out on early childhood development in a safe and stimulating environment.

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.

(Lake 2017)

By providing a stimulating and healthy environment built with natural materials the Delft ECD attempts an early intervention with the long-term view of breaking this cycle.

Project partners

Ikamva Labantu, founded by Helen Lieberman, is a community-driven non-governmental, non-profit organisation that delivers many social support services to underdeveloped communities in Cape Town. These services include learning and development and primary healthcare programmes, as well as provision of resources and hands-on support required to meet the needs of our beneficiaries. With over 50 years of experience, Ikamva Labantu has become one of South Africa’s largest and most respected non-governmental organisations (NGOs). We remain committed to the economic empowerment of township communities. Ikamva Labantu’s grassroots work focuses on the most critical issues in our communities, namely the lack of quality early childhood development programmes, the growing number of orphans, abused and neglected children, and the large number of unsupported and isolated elderly who financially support their families.

Uthando (Love) South Africa is a Cape Town based non-profit organisation which provides a platform and sustainable infrastructure for the upliftment and support of the country’s most destitute and marginalised communities. Uthando achieves these objectives by linking the tourism, travel and hospitality sectors with community development projects. Uthando (Love) South Africa seeks to raise awareness, funds and other forms of assistance for a broad range of innovative grass roots, community based empowerment and development projects and charitable organisations. Uthando shines a light on remarkable changemakers and people who are engaged in remarkable initiatives whilst striving to provide assistance to these organisations.

We are grateful to Mitialto who has kindly donated the funding for this project through Uthando South Africa.