Sunday, 26 June 2016

Permaculture Discovery Centre – at NeverEndingFood, Lilongwe

Grassroots Eco-Build is our up and coming environmental construction firm in Lilongwe, Malawi. We have several building projects that are all designed very efficiently with the use of local materials. At present all of our builds use earth as the main construction material. Each project trains people so the knowledge is passed on and spread around Malawi. There are many different technologies and ways to use earth depending of the criteria of design.

I have been blessed to have met this family in the first few months of my stay in Malawi. I heard of Stacia and Kristof Nordin through word of mouth to start and immediately knew I had to go and visit them. People explained they were running NeverEndingFood, a permaculture center that uses community participation in everything to share and spread the knowledge to benefit as many people as possible.

Their home is a sustainable gem in the middle of the struggling rural communities. The only difference between their home and any other rural home is design. They have used their compound brick wall for several structures inside to maximize efficiency. There is a water system of ponds that feed a huge variety of plants. The human manure from the compost toilet is used as fertilizer for the plants.  The problem of people being hungry in Malawi is crazy with so many natural elements here. It is all education, people need to learn and see the goodness of soils when managed well: good practice water management will give a variety of nutrition for the whole family.

water system

compost system

The Permaculture Discovery Center will be a place where groups come and learn about permaculture and the ways to improve their local methodologies and therefore increase their nutrition levels. 

Our design brief from the Nordin’s is designing and constructing efficiently using alternative natural building technologies compared to the popular burned brick. This building method and Malawi’s growing population has severe effects of deforestation which needs to be solved through education. Our company design is looking at ways to have more local materials and therefore appropriate costs to inspire people in the surrounding villages to uptake this methodology. As one of the main permaculture training homes in Lilongwe specifically working with communities we were excited to take up the project.

Before any design work we gathered information on site and found all the natural materials available.
Local plants and materials grown and used in construction from the site:
  • Giant bamboo
  • Sansevieria trifascia plant: also known as English woman’s tongue
  • Recycled glass and plastic bottles
  • All earth dug from site  
Sansevieria trifascia plant
Grassroots Eco-Build will be using 3 different technologies to build the Permaculture Discovery Center: abobe bags, rammed earth and compressed adobe blocks. With a variation of ways to build people can have several options to decide which method is most preferred so they can imitate the methodology to then build other structures in the surrounding villages.

Permaculture Discovery Center Plan
The 9m x 11m build includes a storage room, classroom space and raised seating for the amphi-theatre space. On the back wall the north light will shimmer through the glass bottle walls while the westerly winds cools and blows through the central space for natural ventilation. The classroom walls have full height regular openings and are angled to see the outside while sitting inside. The roof overhang prevents heat and direct light from coming into the space. For the roof structure for some will use the sansevieria trifascia plant to weave a ceiling, below bamboo rafters and roofing, with a cement plaster for waterproofing.

Permaculture Discovery Center Section A
Permaculture Discovery Center Section B

The classroom has an earth dome ceiling with a central light-well above. The steel structure uses plastic bottle tiles as an alternative, cost efficient and waste reduced option for the light-well. There will be an opening below the light-well so all exhausted air leaves the building.

The Grassroots Eco-Build construction team will be training 2 NeverEndingFood interns who can spread the technology across the villages. The Permaculture Discovery Center should be a great example and an icon throughout the villages in Chitedze, Lilongwe. The build will be a stylish earth building which will show the incredible variation of earth technology. The local material available and the benefits of this material work hand in hand for more information please read:

Welcome to the future of earth construction for Malawi.