Home building

It is two years to the day that we broke ground in Sweet Home Farm on the raft foundation for the UBU Process House. In this time we have sought to build a house bit by bit, using the sandbag technology (including ecobeams), directly in partnership with the community. The builders came from a soccer club that we facilitated between 2010-2013, young boys who had crossed the threshold into manhood. No one had any prior experience of building with the technology, we just wanted to test and see what we could do.


Technology is important and the attributes of any technology are also important to know. We know that a sandbag wall does very well thermally, acoustically, cannot burn down, is bullet proof, can be built incrementally etc. But can WE build it? This is the most important question. Why is this the most important question?


This is important because as development practitioners we have to be dedicated to the idea of building home. This could be a safe place in a community to study, or the ability to receive effective and quick medical care, or any type of appropriate attention. Home is not the house, it’s the place of the rooted city, it’s the protest against the prevailing spirit of transience that many communities in this city (Cape Town) are unfortunately all too familiar with. The way this type of reality is going to come to pass is if communities are invited into the spaces of designing, building and developing the city in which they live. There is a wellspring of resources in an informal community that we have yet to activate, because people have not been invited in to the conversation of how to build the city. The ironic part of this however is that they are the ones who have already been busy building the city, bit by bit. John Turner (1976) puts it well:


Personal and local resources are imagination, initiative, commitment and responsibility, skill and muscle-power; the capability for using specific and often irregular areas of land or locally available materials and tools; the ability to organise enterprises and local institutions; constructive competitiveness and the capacity to co-operate. None of these resources can be used by exogenous or supra-local powers against the will of the people. (Turner)


Somsook Boonyabancha (ACHR) brings this same thinking into the now, certainly post Habitat III and the task facing us on a global scale as we seek to understand what city making means leading up to 2030:


‘If cities are to be the object of the new global development agenda, then people must be the subject. Citizens have to be seen as capable and sensible participants in their city’s development. For any urban development process to be sustainable, people must be more than just passive recipients or voters or numbers in a poll. They have to play an active role as participants and drivers of their city's management, bringing with them not only their ideas, abilities and economic force, but the richness of their history, culture, social systems and interconnectedness.’


The journey of the Process House started when we realised that when we look at informality, we are not looking at a housing problem, but the current housing solution. People have built their own homes, and have done so incrementally. They have saved and added over time, bit by bit. Social governance exists in a very real way, because decisions that affect the masses need to be made. Social cognitive capitol flourishes in such a community, in ways that it doesn’t in other parts of the established (and disconnected) city. The people have built the city.


We want to put a mirror to these incredible practices (that we have seen in Sweet Home Farm, Philippi) and go to other communities. We believe that the Process House idea is perfectly suited to informal communities that are looking to do ‘re-blocking’ – i.e. rationalizing and re-ordering shack dwellings, using new shack structures. We believe that with the sandbag technology we can undertake insitu manufacturing (making within the community) for insitu building, all done by the community. The big difference will be that the starting point of the shack will not be the end point, as we have seen with re-blocked projects in Cape Town. The first-phase framework can be filled in time, incrementally, at the pace of the homeowner. Walls will be filled, and a second floor added in time. The external zinc serves as a sacrificial skin that can be replaced with sand:cement plaster if this is the homeowners choice.


The people get to build. They get to choose. They build the rooted city. They build home.  

A single storey dwelling can become double storey. 

A single storey dwelling can become double storey.