• Raising the roof

    From floating schools to shopping centres made out of repurposed shipping containers, there is no shortage of innovation when it comes to housing and property solutions.

    Raising the roof

    Access to decent housing is such a fundamental human need that it is included in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And yet in many countries, regardless of how developed their economies, housing solutions remain a challenge.

    In a 2014 report on the global housing dilemma, McKinsey estimated that 330 million urban households worldwide live in substandard housing or are financially stretched by housing costs. What’s more, 200 million of these in the developing world are in slums.

    ‘Based on current trends in urban migration and income growth, we estimate that by 2025, about 440 million urban households around the world – at least 1.6 billion people – would occupy crowded, inadequate and unsafe housing or will be financially stretched,’ according to the report. It concludes that replacing substandard housing and building additional units over the next decade will require an investment of up to US$11 trillion for construction alone.

    ‘The prospect of [filling] a gap of 440 million housing units … may seem daunting to policy-makers, but it could represent a massive opportunity for the private sector,’ it states, adding that affordable housing is an ‘overlooked opportunity for developers, investors, and financial institutions’.

    Chinwe Ohajuruka is an architect and sustainability expert, as well as the founder of Comprehensive Design Services, a Nigeria- and US-based firm that engineers and builds affordable green houses that are energy- and resource-efficient.

    She says that affordable housing is often overlooked by housing developers, and that affordable green housing is rarely considered partly because sustainability is often associated with high costs.

    Ohajuruka notes that seven of the largest economies in sub-Saharan Africa – Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania – have a combined housing deficit of 29.3 million units.

    ‘There is certainly scope plus a desperate need to do something about it,’ she says, adding, however, that in many African countries, infrastructural development is yet to happen.

    ‘The good news is that if Africa can build green, we can lead the world in sustainable development to counter the effects of climate change and global warming.’

    Ohajuruka sees immense opportunity on the continent and says African governments are waking up to these possibilities. But, she counters, they need to create enabling conditions and provide finance for the private sector to stimulate housing markets.

    ‘A lot more can – and needs – to be done, and this involves the public and private sectors, financial institutions and the construction industry,’ she says. ‘In my opinion, governments have a huge role to play in establishing partnerships for sustainable property solutions by creating enabling environments for these partnerships to thrive.’

    While this will vary from region to region, Ohajuruka says it could include making land available in good locations, tax breaks for developers, prioritising technology advancement for wide-scale home construction, creative financing for both developers and off-takers, and supportive legislation or regulation.

    Hilary Wesonga, communications officer at Koto Housing Kenya, which provides affordable housing and building solutions, agrees that Africa presents many prospects for innovative property developments.

    Kenya in particular has great potential, he says, as it has great need.

    ‘According to the HassConsult Index 2011, 2% of Kenyans live in cities, and the urban population is growing at a rate of 4.2% every year. With this level of growth, Nairobi requires at least 120 000 new housing units annually to meet demand, yet only 35 000 homes are built,’ he says, adding that as a result of this mismatched supply and demand, housing prices have risen by 100% in the last decade.

    Wesonga says that conventional building methods do little to relieve this pressure, as construction takes time. Using innovative technologies is one way to speed up the process and bridge the supply and demand gap. Koto constructs using lightweight, expanded polystyrene panels, which provide permanent formwork.

    ‘Governments have a role to play in establishing partnerships for sustainable property solutions by creating enabling environments’

    When building with this technology, a house (or bungalow, as it is called in Kenya) can be built in 30 days. ‘Koto can build at least 300
    housing units in a month, or 7 200 units a year, if the factory operates a 24-hour shift,’ says Wesonga. ‘This will go a long way to reducing the housing deficit.’

    In South Africa, an increasingly popular trend is the use of repurposed shipping containers in property developments, as is the use of energy-efficient or ‘green’ building techniques and materials.

    27Boxes in Melville, Johannesburg, is the country’s first commercial development made entirely from old shipping containers. Making a bold statement, it’s both practical and pretty.

    What was previously a derelict park that hadn’t been used for years is now a small yet busy shopping centre that includes jewellery and clothing stores, coffee shops and eateries, a travel agent and even an art gallery, among others. Lush, green lawns, tall and shady trees, and a children’s playground also feature. The project is the brainchild of developers Citiq, who looked to Europe for inspiration.

    ‘The containers still have original markings so people can identify them as containers,’ says Citiq’s commercial facilities manager Peter Mainwaring. ‘It’s very innovative.’ He describes the development as ‘industrial-looking’, adding that it has a ‘funky feel to it’, which fits with the type of tenant the group was aiming to attract. And with a waiting list ‘as long as his arm’, businesses seemingly can’t move in fast enough.

    While this is its first commercial container project, Citiq does have residential developments that feature containers in their designs – Mill Junction and Sixty-One on Countesses.

    According to Mainwaring, 27Boxes took no more than eight months from start to finish. It is the speed of construction that Sean Wall, architect and partner at 4d and a Architects, pegs as one of the greatest benefits of using containers in a build. One of the firm’s various
    projects, the New Jerusalem Children’s Home in Midrand, was built from 28 up-cycled shipping containers, converted into an eco-friendly home for the children.

    The house, which has both 6m and 12m containers arranged in vertical as well as horizontal formations, was completed in six months. Wall says special consideration was given to the house’s thermal performance and energy efficiency, and considerations included eco-friendly composite decking, a solar power system with photovoltaic lighting, a grey-water recycling system, and dry walling with isotherm foam insulation on the inside walls and ceilings.

    According to Wall, up-cycling shipping containers in housing developments is a fairly new concept for South Africa; one which he says some people still have reservations about. The firm is currently working on two commercial constructions with shipping containers, which Wall says he hopes will help to change people’s perceptions of this. ‘The advantages of using containers are multiple,’ he says.

    ‘They can be used for emergency and temporary housing, as well as permanent and pop-up structures. We’ve even turned them into exhibition spaces. The scope of what can be done with them is incredible.’

    Across Africa, the overwhelming needs of growing populations are a driving force for innovation.

    In a notoriously poor area of Lagos, Nigeria, is a place called Makoko, which is prone to flooding. Architect Kunlé Adeyemi has addressed the pressing social and physical needs of the severely underprivileged community with African invention and innovation in the form of a sustainable community; one that is able to work with the water rather than against it.

    In March 2013, he completed the Makoko Floating School, a solar-powered school made from local materials that floats on recycled plastic barrels.

    In Léo, Burkina Faso, a clinic and health centre built by Kéré Architecture serves the medical needs of residents but also collects energy, filters water and serves as a social space for the community. The building’s large, overhanging roofs shade the interior and adjacent spaces, while recessed windows protect against excessive heat and dust. An integrated water management system collects and filters water on site, and also gathers water away from the buildings.

    In Kenya, a US-based social enterprise organisation, PITCHAfrica, is using sport as a catalyst to promote high-yield, community-integrated rainwater harvesting systems. Its flagship project is PITCHKenya.

    It is located in Kenya’s central highlands, and on completion will house a water-harvest-ing football and volleyball stadium that will be home to the Samuel Eto’o Football Academy. It will also serve as a secondary school and environmental centre for the region.

    It is PITCHAfrica’s second development in Kenya. Similar developments will soon get under way in Nigeria and Senegal.

    These different projects and the various architects and engineers who have lent their expertise and inventiveness to them demonstrate that while the continent may have its problems, it certainly has the capacity to solve them. As Ohajuruka puts it: ‘Social entrepreneurship is needed to sensitively address the built environment challenges on the African continent. Africa is getting hotter and more populous, and intervention is urgently needed to ensure that people have access to energy, water, improved sanitation and adequate housing.’

    By Toni Muir
    Image: 27Boxes