Housing Solution for World’s Growing Urban Population

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Across the South, cities are expanding and urban populations growing at a phenomenal rate — the cities of Africa and Asia are growing by a million people a week. Megacities and sprawling slums will be the hallmarks of this majority urban world. In sub-Saharan Africa, 72 percent of the population already lives in slum conditions.

How people will be housed is an urgent problem. There are many ways to build a dwelling, from scavenged materials, to labour-intensive and expensive custom-built construction, yet affordable and safe construction techniques for the poor are sorely needed.

The danger of building unsafe housing can be seen in the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti, where many buildings collapsed, killing an estimated 212,000 people. If the rapid growth in urban populations is to be safe and sustainable, then new dwellings will need to be built that meet high standards of durability.

In South Africa, one company believes it has the right technology for an age of rapid urban population growth and the need for quick and safe housing construction.

The Moladi building system (http://moladi.com/) (http://www.moladi.net/default.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1) developed in 1986 by South African injection mold maker Hennie Botes consists of molded plastic panels, looking like the panels found in children’s construction toys that are screwed together and assembled as a frame for the building. With the frame in place, a concrete mortar mix is poured in and left to dry: depending on local conditions, taking between 12 and 15 hours. When dry, the plastic mold is removed and a fully built house is the result. Because of the use of molds, the home’s walls are smooth and even and the resulting home is tidy to look at.

Moladi doesn’t require professional builders to assemble the frames, and the technique has been tested for strength and for resistance to earthquakes and hurricanes. Since it was developed specifically for the poor, this building method draws on what is called ‘sweat equity’: often the only asset a poor person has to contribute to the cost of building a home is their free labour.

Because the dimensions of the home have already been established when the plastic frames were molded, common on-site mistakes are avoided.

Moladi benefits from South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment programme (http://www.southafrica.info/business/trends/empowerment/bee.htm) and is certified for its quality with the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) (https://www.sabs.co.za/). Moladi contractors and developers are working in 15 countries and the technique is distributed in a further seven countries.

The Moladi construction technique was born of frustration with the traditional approach of laying one brick on top of another. This traditional construction method, dating back thousands of years, just doesn’t match the needs of our times. It is slow and requires highly skilled bricklayers to be done right. Across the developing world, it is possible to see poorly constructed brick dwellings – often built unevenly with poor quality mortar holding the bricks together – that are unsafe in an earthquake.

Training in the Moladi technique takes from one to two weeks for unskilled workers depending on the size of the home. Moladi provides handbooks and all the necessary resources to complete the project. Each project has its own custom-built plastic frames made based on the home’s design.

“There is no flat fee for on-site training; the client is only responsible for covering the travel and living expenses for the Moladi representative or training foreman,” said Hennie Botes.

The ideal size for a project is 15 homes. By building a large number of homes, the individual cost comes down and savings increase.

The system “can be reused 50 times, which means that the more Moladi houses you build, the more economical it becomes,” Botes said. “Compared with the exorbitant cost of traditional construction methods and when current market values are considered, the cost savings of building with the Moladi technology are achieved from the first application.”

As the world’s cities grow, and slums become larger and more prevalent, the urgent need for affordable and decent housing will go hand-in-hand with a need for jobs — particularly jobs for unskilled workers. There just won’t be enough skilled workers to go around to build the homes. Even in developed countries, this has become a problem.

“The recent earthquake disaster in Haiti could benefit from the Moladi system,” Botes said. “Job creation for Haitians is desperately needed and Moladi can immediately facilitate an income for family groups, as over 95 percent of the construction team consists of unskilled labourers. There is no requirement for heavy machinery, or even electricity, and remote areas can be easily accessed; Moladi also allows for the utilisation of building rubble resulting from the earthquake in the construction of new buildings.”

The essence of the Moladi system is breaking down the construction process into simple, replicable steps. It is inspired by the American pioneer of mass production, car maker Henry Ford (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Ford), who achieved efficiency and low costs in production by simplifying production into standardized and modulated steps.

“The Moladi construction process should be viewed as a workflow process similar to that of a vehicle assembly line,” Botes said. “Through the simplification, standardization, modularization, and industrialization of the construction process, efficiency and cost savings are achieved and maintained by managing the continuous flow process on site.

“Contractors must make sure that they have planned their project roll-out and budget well and have clearly defined goals as to what they want to achieve. It is very important to have all team players and professionals on the same page with regards to their roles and responsibilities.”

In the beginning, Botes encountered resistance to his innovative production methods. “I was highly motivated and really believed in my idea, but when I presented it to investors, they’d shoot holes in it. … It’s been a 22-year journey, but I always kept the goal in mind. Moses spent 40 years in the desert … I’m quite happy my desert experience was only 20-odd years, though,” he told Men’s Health magazine.

South Africa is facing a population growth rate of 1.73 percent a year (UNICEF). It also has 61 percent of the urban population trying to live on four percent of the land, according to Botes. This urban population grows at 2.7 percent a year, yet existing housing needs are not being met. There is already a backlog of 2.2 million homes needed to be built, and this grows by 180,000 every year, according to the Banking Association of South Africa (http://www.banking.org.za/default.aspx).

“Even though the need for housing has always been a fundamental requirement to sustain one’s health and welfare, the advances in this area have been seriously lacking,” said Botes. “The brick and mortar method of construction was recorded as early as 1458 B.C, which means that very little has changed in terms of building structures over a period of almost 3.5 millennia.

“We cannot expect to resolve the housing crisis in our age with a technique developed for the requirements of society 3468 years ago.”

With the success of the Moladi building system, Hennie is working on “producing windows, doors, toilet seats, window frames, sinks and washbasins. If I can include these as part of my product, I’ll reduce the total unit cost of the house.”

Resources

1) Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things: This radical concept is about how products, can be used, recycled, and used again without losing any material quality—in cradle to cradle cycles. Website: http://www.mcdonough.com/cradle_to_cradle.htm

2) Builders Without Borders: Is an international network of ecological builders who advocate the use of straw, earth and other local, affordable materials in construction. Website: http://builderswithoutborders.org/

3) World Hands Project: An NGO specialising in simple building techniques for the poor. Website: http://www.worldhandsproject.org

4) CIDEM and Ecosur specialise in building low-cost community housing using eco-materials. They have projects around the world and are based in Cuba. Website: http://www.ecosur.org

5) The Rural Development Institute focuses on land rights for the poor and has a series of articles on China’s land reforms. Website: http://www.rdiland.org

6) More Urban, Less Poor: The first textbook to explore urban development and management and challenge the notion unplanned shanty towns without basic services are the inevitable consequence of urbanization. Website: http://www.earthscan.co.uk/

7) Building and Social Housing Foundation: The Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF) is an independent research organisation that promotes sustainable development and innovation in housing through collaborative research and knowledge transfer. Website: http://www.bshf.org/

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