We’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign so you can help us finish building an edu-centre at the Delft ECD

We’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign because we really need your help to finish building the edu-centre in Delft so carers from informal crèches can get training in early childhood development.

We are busy building a passive solar, earth sheltered building out of tyres, cob, compressed earth bricks and glass bottles at the Delft Early Childhood Development (ECD) centre. But, we need your help to finish building it. The building will be an edu-centre so carers from informal crèches can get training in early childhood development.

Visit Thundafund to make your contribution!

Following our involvement with building the Delft Early Childhood Development centre with natural and sustainable building materials we saw the space and need for an adult training centre there so that, amongst other things, carers from informal crèches in Delft and surrounding areas can receive training in early childhood development. It has been widely accepted that the first 1000 days in a child’s life is critical to their, as well as society-at-large’s health and wellbeing. During this period, children’s brains can form 1,000 neural connections every second and these connections are the building blocks of their future. But, we need your help to complete the building…

What we have achieved to so far:

  • Peter McIntosh has raised R120 000 from the Sophia foundation towards materials and has donated three months of his time towards the success of the project.
  • We have provided employment for eight members of the local community during the building process.
  • We have provided a month-long training sustainable building course including for architecture students of CPUT. The course was presented in collaboration with Guy Williams on behalf of international NGO Long Way Home from Guatemala.
  • We have also used provided other learning opportunities for volunteers, architecture interns.

We need to get from here:

To here:

How we’ll use your contribution:

With your help we can complete this building… Your contribution will go towards completing the following activities:

  • Planning gum pole purloins to level to install roof sheets
  • Installing IBR roof sheets
  • Complete last two sections of ring beam (shutter/form and pour concrete)
  • Source and make over 2000 more bottle bricks
  • Install bottle bricks in cob above ring beam
  • Cob scratch plaster coat, form coat and final lime plaster coat internally
  • Form and final plaster coat on internal and external bottle walls
  • Level and stamp floor
  • Gravel, newspaper, cob and compressed earth brick floor layers
  • Final layer on floor
  • External plaster finishes on tyre walls and ringbeams
  • Final touches on tyre retaining wall and earth berm
  • Front level ramp and paving threshold
  • Painting fibre board on door-front

With your support we are making a difference… Thank you! 


Transition Ethics: The Art of Compromise

This post first appeared on Numundo on 16 February 2016. We are re-posting it here with the permission of  Shayna Gladstone and author Scott Gallant.

To introduce the post, we’d like to share with you why we were so excited to read Scott’s post. Written by Scott Gallant from Rancho Mastatal Sustainability Education Center in Costa Rica, the post is based on his experience teaching the three permaculture ethics during the center’s Permaculture Design Courses, and the realization that a fourth ethic is required in order to facilitate a conversation about compromise.  They filled the gap with the Transition Ethic. Scott quotes Jessi Bloom and Dave Boehnlein, authors of Practical Permaculture, who acknowledge that “the transition ethic says that no one is going from zero to sustainable overnight. Making the transition takes time.” He goes on to say that “We have to meet people where they are at.  We must understand their cultural context.” Continue reading

Reflections and observations on a recent visit to the former Transkei

I had the pleasure of recently visiting a really magical place, Mdumbi in the former Transkei. Mdumbi is about 30km north of Coffee Bay in the typical rolling green landscape. Travelling with fellow architects Carl Morkel and Wim Els at a slowish pace, either walking or watching from the car window, one is aware of a soft silence, endless, gentle rolling hills with the silhouette of small pastel huts and sometimes the ocean in the background. Grandmothers moving peacefully and slowly, a shout from one hillside to the next, fishermen just appearing as almost out of nowhere.

Figure 1: Typical Transkei landscape, round huts in pastel colours.

Figure 1: Typical Transkei landscape, round huts in pastel colours.

One would like to think of this place as the ultimate sustainable example of natural building. Huts have been made here forever with soil and clay, either with using the wattle and daub or with mud brick method. You could easily imagine that all buildings here are still made with the smallest possible footprint on the earth. There are tiny mud brick making “factories” all along the roadsides, with clay being excavated directly out of the hillside and the small holes being covered with grass growing over it fairly quickly. People are going about making the bricks, talking, mixing, moulding, laying the bricks out to dry.

Figure 2: Local mud brick factory with possibly best view in the world

Figure 2: Local mud brick factory with possibly best view in the world

Figure 3: Local mud brick factory with possibly best view in the world

Figure 3: Local mud brick factory with possibly best view in the world


Deep-rooted traditions, foreign to outside observers, is visible in the very nature of the buildings, with huts in ruins not because of a lack of maintenance but out of respect for the inhabitant that has passed to another life, with contemporary car tyres forming the crown of the round roof and sharp pieces of glass embedded in them, not for adornment or ornament, but to keep the evil owl away.

The “evil” that has crept into this landscape dispels the romantic idea that all here is inherently sustainable. The landscape is pock marked with entire hill sides being bull dozed to mine sand and left un-rehabilitated. Thermally poor performing materials with a high environmental cost, such as concrete block have become the status symbol for affluence. Understanding of all the reasons behind these changes, which are many, is the topic for another discussion, but the low maintenance of a concrete block building cannot be left out of the picture.

The “charm” of the degradable, organic buildings is thwarted by the very aspect that makes them charming. If just left, they can degrade. Easily. The national “eradicate mud schools” agenda is by now well known. It is a multibillion-rand programme. This year alone the delivery delays on this programme have apparently cost 7 billion rand. (Legal Resources Centre, 2014) The mud school has developed a very bad name. And it is only through involvement and education that this will change.

Figure 4: Wattle and daub degrading

Figure 4: Wattle and daub degrading

The reasons for the mud schools have a bad name is given one blogger as “having no toilets, having no electricity, having not water, coughing in a dusty classroom where the roof is caving in”…………..this from http://realisingrights.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/we-do-not-have-toilets/ Also read this http://mg.co.za/article/2013-03-08-00-forgotten-schools-of-the-eastern-cape-left-to-rot and this http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/Politics/Mud-schools-gone-by-2015-minister-20130226.

Why do these school buildings perform so badly? Traditional Transkei buildings require constant maintenance, since most of them lack the two really important protection criteria that natural buildings need to survive. A proper hat and boots. In trying to convince role players that it is not necessarily the “mud” that is the problem in these schools, Lesley Freedman and Andy Horn recently met and then sent a letter to Equal Education to introduce ideas around proper “mud” building standards that will not only improve the schools but also houses in the surrounding villages.

This brings me back to our reason for visiting the Transkei. We went there to take part in discussions regarding the development of a wonderful initiative, Mdumbi Green Destinations. This is a project envisioned by Mdumbi Backpackers in association with the Mankosi community. The Mankosi community will develop a community owned tourist facility where, amongst other sustainable aspects, the buildings will be made with natural, local materials. The local community will be integrated in the design, development and building process and will, apart from getting ownership and employment during and after the process, they will learn about using their local materials in an effective way that makes it last longer (and of course food production and other environmental sustainable things, but we are concentrating on this blog on natural building).

Spin offs of the initiative is that the Mdumbi Backpacker community has learned some valuable lessons and skills about natural building in the long process (read years) towards the project becoming a reality. And some of them learned these skills at Berg-en-Dal.

Through the Transcape “arm” of Mdumbi backpackers that focuses directly on assisting the community, an Eco Centre has been opened. Already here mud brick making, proper building methods (and food gardening) is taught to the local community. What is interesting that we observed when visiting the Eco Centre is that it was predominantly young men and women that took part in the mud brick making workshops, where at the “factories” next to the road it was mostly older women working.

Figure 5: Me at the Eco Centre mud brick training facility

Figure 5: Me at the Eco Centre mud brick training facility

Figure 6: One (wo)man mould_I like the size of this for when you work alone

Figure 6: One (wo)man mould_I like the size of this for when you work alone

Figure 7_Local stone_great to use for “boots” of the building

Figure 7_Local stone_great to use for “boots” of the building


Figure 8: Volunteers house at the Eco Centre – putting in proper floor

Figure 8: Volunteers house at the Eco Centre – putting in proper floor

So, I am really looking forward to being involved in this great project and will keep you updated……………..


Figure 9: Sunrise and fishermen at Mdumbi Point

Figure 9: Sunrise and fishermen at Mdumbi Point


Photo credits

Figure 1-8: Carl Morkel

Figure 9: Hermie Delport-Voulgarelis


Natural Building in the Architectural Curriculum

The first time I made cob I was knee deep in trouble, there was no way of ever leaving this muddy business again. I simply love the smell and feel of wet earth being mixed. I guess it started when I lived in Prince Albert as a 5 year old and mixed “chocolate milk” in the empty-from-plants-but-not-from-soil flowerpots on our big stoep. My sister and I had to do it quietly and secretly, since my mom did not really appreciate us drinking the soil and water mixtures………….. (In that same garden we had plenty of chickens and ducks, figs and apricots, what a great place for a child to live.)

Currently, I try to impart my love of earth building to my students at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). If possible we have an actual physical experience of working with earth and at other times it might be more theoretical knowledge, but applied in design and technological projects. Studio projects that deal with earth technology have become an integral part of the education in our Architectural Technology Department.

What interests me now, are ways in which natural building methods are both taught in the architectural curriculum and expressed in a contemporary manner.

Within the architectural education realm, I love Ithuba Science Centre, which was designed and built by students of the Faculty of Architecture of the RWTH Aachen University.

leon krige 1

Design-build projects are of special interest to me and are defined within the architectural curriculum as “essentially the full-scale investigation of the built form. The typologies of projects are varied, but share the characteristic that it typically gives students the opportunity to engage in a project from design to actual construction” (Delport and Perold 2012).

The project embodies for me the essence required in an architectural student project. It is real, hands-on, design-build, incorporates natural building methods, contributes to a real need in a community and does all of this in an elegant architectural manner.

leon krige 2

The Ithuba Science centre is part of the Ithuba Skills College, which is in Montic just outside of Johannesburg. The College caters for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and teaches them “English and Natural Sciences, but also practical basic skills like bricklaying, carpentry, sewing or electrical fitting during a five-year training”. (Faculty of Architecture RWTH Aachen University 2014)

leon krige 3

The light steel frame of the Science Centre was erected first and it was then filled in with a straw/clay mixture, creating a highly insulated monolithic wall according to traditional German practices. The mixture was placed into formwork which was moved upward as the work progressed. The building has large roof overhangs to protect and shade the walls and the roof structure is separated from the walls to let hot air out. (Designboom 2013)

leon krige 4

The Departments of Building Typologies and of Structures and Structural Design of The Faculty of Architecture supervised the project as part of their design-build program. A full construction booklet is available as well as a short video of the construction.

Students thoroughly enjoy hands-on, design-build work and work with more enthusiasm than on traditional studio bound projects. (Sara 2006) Where this practical work has meaning in both environmental and social contexts, the learning becomes incredibly relevant.  The more this type of work is integrated within the architectural curriculum, the bigger influence education will have on future practices within the architectural and building industry.


Delport-Voulgarelis, H and Perold, R. (2012). Creating a New Curriculum. ARCH SA Journal of the South African Institute of Architects. Issue 58. (Nov/Des 2012). p. 50-51.

Designboom. (2013). s2arch and RWTH aachen university build a new school in south africa. [Online]. July 2013. Available from http://www.designboom.com/architecture/s2arch-and-rwth-aachen-university-build-a-new-school-in-south-africa/. [Accessed 24 Feb 2014].

Faculty of Architecture RWTH Aachen University. (2014). Student-constructured-projects Ithuba Science Centre. [Online]. August 2012. Available from http://arch.rwth-aachen.de/cms/Architektur/Wirtschaft/Projekte/~nvv/Selbstbauprojekte/lidx/1/ . [Accessed 24 Feb 2014].

Sara, R., 2006. Live Project Good Practice : A Guide for Live Projects, Available at: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/cebe/documents/resources/briefingguides/BriefingGuide_08.pdf.

All photographs by Leon Krige who granted permission for the use thereof.

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