As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Now that Globalisation is here with us, Africans will need to up their game in construction methodology to meet the current demand. Issues such as population explosion, urbanisation, limited supply of materials, cost of labour etc should be addressed.
During the early times, labour was not a major hindrance since people could use slaves to build structures such as Fort Jesus. Currently, in the process of designing structures, the cost of labour has to be incorporated so as to enable the project to be viable.
Africans should embrace new methods of construction used elsewhere in the world. The Building Code in Kenya should be open to enable other standards such as American standards which are highly developed when it comes to the use of Pre-Engineered Steel buildings. Its also high time someone came up with the African Standard no matter how far-fetched this may sound. Once research is done on African construction methods such as Adobe,timber structures, a standard can originate which will assist the rest of the world in making their choices.
Home grown solutions to construction that have been used here in Kenya for centuries can be revived to ease shortage of housing.
Adobe has been used in Kenya for centuries.Research should be done to commercialise the use of Adobe in construction. Currently, the Indian and Chinese are exporting cement-fibre boards for use as wall panels. If the Adobe technology is researched further, am sure someone enterprising enough will soon come up with a version similar to the cement-fibre boards and ease the cost of construction.
World-leading International multinationals in cement such as La Farge also started from the first step so its never too late.
China and India are making good business exporting ceramic tiles to Kenya. Ceramic tiles are basically constructed from clay soil which we have in plenty here in Kenya.
Our ancestors have been making clay pots for several centuries now using Clay. Production of ceramic tiles is similar to the traditional method of baking clay pots. Therefore, if an enterprising Kenyan can come up with a method of commercial production of ceramics, we will not need to import this “Asian Soil” to Kenya.
The most expensive roofing product in the market is the stone-coated steel tile-thatch roof-profile. This is sold in Kenya by companies such as South African Harvey Roofing Products, Australian Decra Space and Style, and Dura Roofing Tiles.
These roofing tile imitates thatch roof which we have been using for centuries here in Kenya. This is because thatch roof has the best aesthetic look and insulation. This is also another avenue that Africans can work on to improve on the supply of construction materials.
The most expensive paint in the market at the moment is the Rough textured paint such as ‘Crown Ruff n Tuff’. Again this paint is expensive because it tries to capture the good looks of Adobe mud wall and also the superior insulation qualities of the Adobe mud walls.
The Adobe mud walls have been in use in Africa for Centuries. If we can work on improving this and manufacturing it for the Global market, then we will save a lot of foreign exchange and create employment.
Some factories in South Africa are manufacturing plastic imitations of thatch which is exported to the rest of the world. If we can put in some research, we can surely come up with a solution that is better than the existing imitations.
HARDWOOD DOORS & FURNITURE
The most expensive doors in the market at the moment are hand-curved hardwood doors. In Kenya, we have the magnificent Swahili doors. Again, it these are manufactured for export to the global market, then this will result in creation of jobs and revenues here in Africa.
In Kenya, we have very creative stick and wooden furniture that is traditional. This can be manufactured commercially for export. A good example is the Bamboo furniture sold at Ramboo, Mombasa Road, manufactured in South Africa and exported to Kenya.
Imported slate-stone counter tops and floor tiles are very expensive. In Kenya we have Mazeras stone floor finishes which if well cut and polished, can be a major export for the Country. Therefore, its important to note that Africa has the potential to supply the world with unique construction material. All we need to do is to think outside the box and supply the world with unique construction products at a low cost.
This is a sleeping giant waiting to be awoken in this sector. Lets hope that the new constitution will awaken this giant.
Architect Frank Gichuhi