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Eco-Friendly Buildings in Africa

The world is moving towards sustainable and green buildings. In fact, sustainability has been the key driver of modern architecture and every country is now showcasing their design talents through their most admirable green buildings. Of course, Africa has its own creations to boast too.

Five years ago, it was predicted that Africa will need to become a home to more people. New Climate Economy said in the past that the urban areas in sub-Saharan Africa will see 800 million more people than in 2014. This means, there will be more needs for new buildings for these new populations to live in, work at, and study at. It also presents a tremendous opportunity to reinvent the way they do construction in the country and keep up with the trends that the rest of the world has already been embracing since years ago.

The advantage that Africa has over other countries that are still starting to do sustainable construction is that almost 80 percent of the buildings needed for this estimated growth in population has not yet been built. This gives them a clean start in doing sustainable construction. Unlike other countries where buildings are already overcrowded in the cities and major towns and villages and will need to be updated through retrofit, renovation, and in some cases even demolition. The new products may be green but there will be a lot of construction wastes that need to be disposed of.

Africa’s Green Building Movement

Sub-Saharan Africa is among the fastest-growing regions of the world. The urban area is estimated to expand at 4.5 percent per year. Countries like Ethiopia, Zambia, and Tanzania are, however, expected to reach 7 percent expansion. With the rapid growth, it is expected that by 2035, the number of Africans joining the working-age group will exceed that of the rest of the world combined. And as we mentioned earlier, this means more buildings are needed to be built.

The challenge they are facing in Africa right now is that many of their settlements are so poorly designed that economic, social and environmental stability is at risk. And to face the truth, Africa isn’t that much capable of updating its construction trends. That said, many foreign investors came to bring the needed funds to improve the construction industry and also bring in foreign materials and building practices.

Fuelled by the desire to grow and grab the opportunity of improved construction practices, an African green building movement was established. In 2007, the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) was founded.

From there, Green Building Councils were developed in Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, Namibia, and Mauritius. They went into discussions with the World Green Building Council about how they could adapt the GBC model in their countries. And now, we see some great green buildings in the region.

That said, let’s look at the top ten green constructions that won Africa some bragging rights in the field of sustainable building.

1.Universidade Agostinho Neto

The Agostinho Neto University is the product of Angola’s ambitious plan of having a world-class university that follows the standards of sustainable building. The design features a well-lit building to save energy during the day and to adapt to the country’s hot, dry climate.

2.Gando Primary School, Burkina Faso

This building designed by then a student of architectural studies Francis Diebedo Kere was started in 1999. To achieve sustainability, the architect designed the building with climatic comfort. To fulfill a low-cost construction, the contractors used most of the local materials and the potential of the local community and adapted technology from the industrialized world in a simple way.

3.Eastgate Centre, Harare, Zimbabwe

Although largely made of concrete, the Eastgate Centre has a feature that makes it truly sustainable. This building was built with a ventilation system that operates similarly to the self-cooling mounds of African termites. Since it doesn’t use the conventional air-conditioning or heating systems that most buildings have, the Eastgate Centre is said to use only 10% of the energy that a conventional building of its size would use. Owners of the building reportedly saved $3.5 million because of the use of natural ventilation instead of conventional HVAC.  Tenants enjoy the same benefit as they pay 20 percent less of the rent that occupants of surrounding buildings would pay.

4.‘Inno-native’ Home, Accra Ghana

Not really a building but this home is definitely green. Joe Osae Addo, the designer, and owner of the inno-native house were determined to build a beautiful eco-friendly house for his family in Ghana. He built it using materials found in rural areas such as timber and adobe mud blocks. There is no air-conditioning unit but the house has to slide slatted-wood screens and floor to ceiling jalousie windows for cross ventilation. And to keep the house cool, he raised the house elevation to three feet off the ground to take advantage of the cooling under floor breeze. Although it uses electricity from the national grid, there are solar panels installed in the house for backup. Surprisingly, this amazing house costs only $50,000.

5.El Mandara eco-resort, Fayoum, Egypt

It may seem rugged and like more like a ruin, but don’t underestimate its design as it is a sustainable structure crafted by the minds of some young people. This resort was previously a series of rundown buildings that were renovated by a group of young people who saw its potential for attracting tourists. The group used local, sustainable building materials like mud bricks and palm fronds for shading.

6.Sandbag Houses, Freedom Park, Cape Town, South Africa

A project led by MMA Architects, the aim of a sandbag home is to conserve money and resources. Each house is built for only $6,000. Inexpensive local materials were used and the construction was done with the help of residents, hence cutting down costs on transportation and labor. The house was built using the EcoBeams system, which replaces brick-and-mortar with sandbags. The houses were proven to be a strong, safe and cheap way of delivering affordable housing.

7.Ecomo Homes, Franschhoek, South Africa

Architect Pietro Russo has designed the Ecomo homes on sustainable design principles, basically incorporating low maintenance materials. These prefabricated homes were built in a factory in South Africa to reduce the construction wastes on the beautiful landscape where the homes now stand. Since pre-fabricated, they can be arranged in whatever layout the client desires.

8.Woodlands Spa and Forum, Homini Hotel, Cradle of Humankind, South Africa

The Activate Architects was contracted to design a hotel that won’t disturb the environment and the wildlife in the location so it has integrated the building with the surroundings. Reclaimed bricks were used for construction, small grazing games installed on the roof, and indigenous plants were used in the gardens.

9.Karoo Wilderness Centre, South Africa

Like the Woodland Spa and Forum, the Karoo Wilderness Centre was designed by the Field Architecture to integrate within the fragile landscape of its surroundings. The most impressive feature is the rainwater capturing system which ensures the center remains self-sustaining.

10.Africa Centre, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

The East Coast Architects built four research pods cluster around a cruciform space. These pods make up the whole center. Each pod has open plan offices arranged around courtyards to allow natural light to come in. There is also a 15-meter water tower thermal stack used to assist in natural ventilation.  Furthermore, there is a loop system in the building where rainwater is channeled into the wetlands while greywater is used to irrigate the garden. Sewerage is also treated on the site.

The building’s frame uses locally-sourced blockwork, steel, and glass panels. Surprisingly, local materials like eucalyptus poles and thatching laths were used to support the main tower and shading respectively.

Africa is indeed learning the art of sustainable construction.

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