By Olamide Udoma
We are all trying to go ‘green’: ‘green’ world, ‘green’ city, ‘green’ household.
‘Green’ has become a buzzword for sustainable, safe, energy efficient and/or economic. The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes green architecture as a ‘philosophy of architecture that advocates sustainable energy sources, the conservation of energy, the reuse and safety of building materials, and the siting of a building with consideration of its impact on the environment’. In the world of architecture we are all trying to go green but is this the same in Africa and if it is, how is it being manifested?
After doing some research, I have realised that ‘green’ architecture in Africa does not mean the same thing as it does in Europe or America.The reason for the difference is technology, cost, and governance. I would describe the so-called ‘green’ architecture in the African context as ‘feasible’; and a by-product of becoming ‘feasible’ is to become sustainable. Feasible or Sustainable architecture in Africa is finding new ways to cut costs, take lessons from traditional building methods, conserve energy, promote reuse and still remain relevant.
I have chosen a sample of 10 ‘feasible’ buildings from all over Africa (in no particular order), where South Africa is leading the way. These architects are designing and building homes and buildings that are not just aesthetically pleasing but are at the forefront of sustainable architectural practice. All the architects mentioned in this article have stayed true to the environment and minimised construction waste. Even without tough building regulations imposed on them they have been able to adhere to environmentally friendly methods and conserve energy. All 10 examples use natural ventilation, cooling and heating systems, therefore, advocating sustainable energy sources. The most sustainable attributes to these building are their costs and ease of construction. They are all cost effective and economically viable, which makes them accessible by all and easier to maintain.
1. Sandbag Houses, Freedom Park, Cape Town, South Africa | Architect: MMA Architects
The aim of a sandbag home is to conserve money and conserve resources. Having been built for $6,000 its aim is being achieved. Inexpensive local materials were used, therefore cutting down on transportation. It was also constructed with the help of its future residents, bringing costs down further. The house was built using the EcoBeams system, which replaces brick-and-mortar with sandbags. It is reported to be a strong, safe and cheap way of delivering affordable housing.
2. Vissershok School, Durbanville, South Africa | Architect: Tsai Design
This school is constructed out of recycled shipping containers. It serves as a classroom in the morning and a library in the afternoon. With a limited budget the final product maximises space. The large roof shelters the container from sunlight and the gap allows for ventilation and reduces heat gain. The windows located across each side achieve cross ventilation. The stepped seating was included to offer space for the children to eat lunch and acts as an amphitheatre for school assemblies. A green wall has been planted and once there is foliage it will act as a vegetable garden and shelter the play are from southeast wind.
3. Floating School, Makoko, Lagos, Nigeria | Architect: Kunle Adeyemi, NLÉ
The Floating School will accommodate 100 students, while using 256 plastic drums to keep it resting on top of the water. The frame is constructed with locally-sourced wood and was built by Makoko residents. Once the school is open electricity will be provided by solar panels on the roof, and rainwater harvesting would help operate the toilets. The school is finished, and the cost to build was $6,250.
4. Ecomo Homes, Franschhoek, South Africa | Architect: Pietro Russo – Ecomo
These homes have been designed on sustainable design principles, incorporating low maintenance materials. They are built off-site in a factory in South Africa to minimize constructions waste and then installed on site. They can be arranged in whatever layout the client desires. The square modular units can be easily joined together in a variety of arrangements to accommodate living, play, or sleeping spaces.
5. Africa Centre, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa | Architect: East Coast Architects
Located in northern KwaZulu-Natal, the African Centre is set on a south-facing slope. Four research pods cluster around a cruciform space. A 15-metre water tower thermal stack assists natural ventilation. Each pod houses open plan offices arranged around courtyards ensuring natural exposure to natural light. Locally sourced block work, steel and glass panels were used for the construction of the frame. Other local materials, such as eucalyptus poles, thatching laths have been used to support the main tower and shading respectively. The building is using a loop system, where stormwater is channelled into wetlands, greywater irrigates the gardens and sewerage is treated on site.
6. El Mandara eco-resort, Fayoum, Egypt | Architect: N/A
Egypt is known for its troops of tourist, but this has changed due to instability in recent years and now new ways of attracting tourists are becoming apparent. Eco-tourism is gradually leading the way. This resort was previously a series of rundown buildings, and has now been renovated by a group of young people who saw its potential. They advocated the use of local, sustainable building materials including mud bricks (a la Hassan Fathy) and palm fronds to provide shading from the relentless desert sun. It sits astride Lake Qurun and pays deep respect to its natural surroundings.
7. ‘Inno-native’ Home, Accra Ghana | Architect: Joe Osae-Addo
Joe Osae-Addo was determined to build a beautiful eco-friendly house for his family in Ghana. The house was built with materials found primarily in rural areas: timber and adobe mud blocks. With no air-conditioning, the house has sliding slatted-wood screens and floor to ceiling jalousie windows for cross ventilation. The house is raised three feet off the ground to take advantage of the cooling under floor breeze. Even though the house is connected to the national grid for electricity, solar panels have been installed for backup and for heating water. The house cost $50,000.
Largely made of concrete, the Eastgate Centre has a ventilation system, which operates similarly to the self-cooling mounds of African termites. As well as bio-mimicry the building takes inspiration from indigenous Zimbabwean masonry. Without conventional air-conditioning or heating the building stays regulated all year round, dramatically reducing energy consumption. The building uses 10% of the energy a conventional building of its size would use. The owners of Eastgate have saved $3.5 million because of the use of natural ventilation and this has trickled down to the tenants who are paying 20 per cent less rent than occupants of surrounding buildings.
9. Woodlands Spa and Forum, Homini Hotel, Cradle of Humankind, South Africa | Architect: Activate Architects
With an intention to not disturb the environment and the wildlife, the Woodland Spa and Forum has integrated itself with it’s surroundings; reclaimed bricks have been used for the construction, small game can graze on the roof, and indigenous plants are used in the gardens.
10. Karoo Wilderness Centre, South Africa | Architect: Field Architecture
Like the Woodland Spa and Forum, the design of the Karoo Wilderness Centre has been integrated within the fragile landscape. The most impressive feature is the rainwater capturing system, which was created to ensure the centre remains self-sustainable.