Monday, 9 January 2017

The patterns of life within earth building

Permaculture Discovery Center in Chitedze, Lilongwe


While cycling around and observing, there are many patterns in my Malawi life.
·         The magical people that make this place, make life so easy.
·          The simplicity and balance of work
·         Dependence on people in society : this need for help with power or water is all part of socializing
·         As my job has started taking me up and down the country of Malawi I am linking, meeting and expanding my network.

The direction is often distorted as I meet some great people who have inspired me through my 3 years of being here. I always make time as there is time to pop in and visit them on my travels. 

June Walker is a permaculture, skills sharer and community worker: an inspirational character who has been living and practicing on affordable sustainable living within nutrition and other environmental activities in Malawi. For more than 50 years she has resided on Lake Malawi and shared the information that people used to walk from Cape Maclear side to Monkey Bay.  The Lake is situated on the rift valley, and as the water edge is now creeping back due to the movement of the tectonic plates June has started planting trees.  Her aim is to develop many trees growth by using the retracting water line to plant. June has started building large compost piles on the old water level from last year then planting trees so they grow strong and the roots feed downwards as the water level does the same. People who live and know so much to work with the environment give me further thoughts…

June Walkers Solar dryer

From working for at least 6 months and networking with as many keen passionate environmentalists as possible I can see the future. My research, design ideas and knowledge within waste management has made a big impact in Lilongwe.  We had a very successful introductory talk with many stakeholders and partners keen to work with us in the future. With so many links any project would now be setup with ease, knowing who works in which areas to collaborate to ensure we create a large impact. We have had so many positive people wanting some direction on where and how to manage waste so with our International Conservation and Cleanup Management solutions we have hit the target.  Using crowdfunding to raise money, I have built a recycling point in Mbinzi School in Lilongwe, one which has plenty of waste paper and one which has no resources or books for children. With the waste paper there will be 2 keen Malawian environmentalists who will be teaching people how to make recycled paper and booklets while sharing environmental education. The same will be done with food waste, to make food compost for the struggling school gardens. The rest of the money has been used to officially register our charity so we can apply for some big grants as the need is obvious. Our future plans include sustainable waste management in several villages along the Lakeshore including afforestation, beekeeping and nutrition programs.

Recycling point at Mbinzi School, Lilongwe

I came to Malawi as an architect so including starting the waste innovations charity in which has a large focus on construction I have also specialised on natural materials within our architecture and construction company: Grassroots Eco-Build
Grassroots Eco-Build is a social enterprise company as we are focusing on sharing knowledge with a great team of welders, builders, and school and university students. We look at designing and constructing using the local sustainable materials available using techniques such as rammed earth, adobe blocks, domes, adobe bags and thatch instead of burned brick which is more expensive and inappropriate for the Malawi climate. Design should account for the needs and work with the environment including natural ventilation and light, solar heated water, water collection, harvesting, compost for plant nutrition, and other daily activities. Our aim is to use earth construction as a contemporary method so people can see the potential and future encouraging projects and development.

Having realised people want burned brick it was then focusing on the education and environment sector to talk to people about the durability and opportunities of developments using earth building. We have talked at Pitch Night in Lilongwe and have networked with many who are keen to build our prototype earth building house after seeing the Sams Village, Landirani work from my past years.

With a focus on environmental education we were very lucky to be requested to work with the famil Nordin’s at NeverEndingFood, Chitedze.  They have been inspirational within the permaculture sector: giving low cost, locally available nutrition options for growing all types of plants. Not just Nsima (which does not have a high nutritional value and is inappropriate as people can only grow it to harvest once a year.)
Our conversations have reflected a similarity within the building sector where so many other natural available building materials to use but people just choose the burned brick technology with iron rooves which is too hot for the climate and causes a huge environmental impact.
The inquisitive people have breached out and looked to understand and develop in a way that is efficient and we want to find and train as many of those people as possible. Luckily in the construction sector we have proven natural building is 10% cheaper than the conventional way of building which is a big advantage.

Our project at NeverEndingFood is to build the Permaculture Discovery Center. This is a great opportunity for us as our clients are extremely happy for us to experiment with some more local natural waterproof plastering options. These will be analysed to bulk our research. The build uses 2 types of earth technology: rammed earth and adobe bag to give different options for the surrounding community. The 9m x 11m build includes a storage room, classroom space and raised seating for the amphi-theatre like space. At the back of the seating the north light will shimmer through the glass bottle walls while the westerly winds cool 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 we will use gumpoles and weaved bamboo and earth plastering with natural waterproofing. We would also like to try weaving sansevieria trifascia plant for the ceiling.

The classroom has a central light well above as we need appropriate costs we have decided to use plastic bottle tiles fixed to our gumpole existing roof structure. There will be an opening below the lightwell so all exhausted air leaves the building.
·         Local plants and materials grown and used from site:
·         Bamboo
·         Sansevieria trifascia plant, also known as English woman’s tongue
·         Recycled glass and plastic bottles
·         Earth
Thatch is a common well used material but it is only found on the lakeshore which is 1 hour from our site in Chitedze, Lilongwe. For us, it was important to find local available materials (so changing the design to weaved bamboo and earth so people can copy the design themselves and give good alternative solutions to the hot corrugated iron. Having researched many materials we are also excited to be testing different waterproofing plasters.
·         Cactus liquid and lime
·         Cassava flour and sand
·         Termite clay and sand
I will have to give analysis results in the next blog.

Each build is training local people, giving skills and environmental education. The reason to why, is just as important as what and how so people understand fully and can talk to other people about the subject as a whole.
As things have picked up and the projects for this year 2017 are increasing and our company work will be accelerating: giving many jobs and training many people in Malawi. As Sams Village, Landirani Trust (my old construction team) is finishing the project, the 50 trained earth builders from North West Lilongwe will be available for work which is brilliant timing! I have been very satisfied at the continual work progress and completion after leaving Landirani Trust.

As many earth building teams combine around Malawi we hope to create more impact and national recognition this year with an increase in acknowledgment of existing durable natural resources available. Check out the Earth Building Malawi Facebook Group for more information.
Grassroots Eco-Build are also designing to completely change the education system in Malawi looking at the holistic approach of sustainable schools and how the food gardens and environmental science can become part of the teaching in physical class activities. This is at concept proposal stage, but again very exciting.


Grassroots Eco-Build are also discussing contracting and building a very large EcoLodgy Center in Blantyre which will keep us extremely busy. The site brings inspirations: my designs keep me planning with nature, observing the existing systems that work together and developing them to compliment and improve one another.  I find the geometric patterns of nature fascinating. Fibonacci uses an algebra equation for numerical perfection and the replications produce incredible structures in nature like bee hives. The Bucky ball uses perfect geometry for good strength; this is like many designs in nature.  I now have the chance to design a village looking at environmental science and how our buildings can reflect the works of nature.
And the patterns of life keep moving, and the correct people keep linking so the projects will keep proceeding…

Architecture inspired by nature