Friday, 12 October 2012 10:35

A single-source solution to low- and medium-income housing

A new multi-use modular solution to low- and medium-income housing could present a sustainable solution to South Africa’s housing backlog.

Karien Slabbert

The South African Minister of Human Settlements, Tokyo Sexwale, recently stated that there is a 2,1-million housing unit backlog in the country. This translates into 12,5-million people who are still awaiting homes. This backlog calls for innovative, low-cost, quality housing solutions that make provision for the full range of human settlement needs.

In a bid to address this socio-economic problem, HLM Architects in association with Paul Silver, have developed a single-source concept solution to low- and medium-income housing. In essence, this functional box-shaped design plan provides a plethora of alternative building scenarios. “The blueprint for the project is based on the principle that less infrastructure can be used to build larger, better and more sustainable houses,” says Sean Hammond, director at HLM Architects. All the systems are adaptable to specific needs, adding to the collective benefit of the project.

“It is estimated that 100 000 houses can be built within three years, which could lead to 300 000 jobs. This would make the project sustainable,” says Hammond.

Improved land utilisation and advanced technologies

According to Hammond, the project will focus on improved land utilisation. “The project will see a 70% reduction in below-ground infrastructure and 60% reduction in roads,” says Hammond. “These types of projects are always more effective when one starts from scratch,” he adds.

Hammond believes that implementing advanced technologies and materials will ensure a quality end-product. “Factory-based solutions will shorten the construction phase, ensure higher quality housing and reduced pollution,” says Hammond. Cast in-situ concrete with insulated shuttering can be used for the structures. Alternatively, prefabricated R18 modular wall panels can be used, which are four times more effective than the R4 wall panels that are widely used in South Africa.

Other low-cost materials could include plastic roof tiles, corrugated roofs, air-sealed insulation with trickle ventilation, new-technology wall panels that regulate temperatures in summer and winter, as well as PVC double-glazed window units. “Ultimately, it’s about finding the right solution for the location,” notes Hammond.

“There is a strong focus on reducing the project’s carbon footprint, as well as a reduced impact on local infrastructure. With regard to environmental benefits, there will be a whole-site energy management plan, with water collection, reticulation and retention ponds. Environmental benefits will include solar electricity, solar street lights, solar hot water and enhanced thermal values. Biomass fuel systems could also help to ensure that the community becomes self-sustaining,” says Hammond.

Environmental design

•    Solar hot water. The system consists of two main parts: a solar collector and a storage tank. The sun heats the absorber plate in the collector, which heats the fluid within the collector. The heated fluid is then moved into the storage tank, where it can be used.
•    Solar electric photovoltaic (PV) systems. Residential and commercial photovoltaic systems consist of modules that use semi-conducting materials to absorb sunlight. The absorbed sunlight knocks electrons loose from their atoms, allowing the electrons to flow through the material, thus producing electricity. This electricity can be harnessed by storing it in batteries or feeding it into your local electric grid.
•    Solar street lighting. Communal outdoor streets, paths, walkways, garden and courtyard lights in the houses could use solar-powered lights. Fitted with LED bulbs, this type of lighting not only provides outstanding illumination, but is also energy-efficient, long-lasting and economical to run. The traditional solar-powered lighting involves long cable runs. New technology allows for solar panels, batteries and light fittings to be located together at the head of poles, reducing cable runs and making fittings more secure and robust.
•    Biomass fuel. Biomass fuels are starting to become more popular due to the rising costs of fossil fuels. Bio-energy technologies use renewable organic resources, called biomass, to produce many energy-related products including electricity, liquid, solid and gaseous fuels, heat, chemicals and other materials. Utilising the source of bio-energy reduces pollution and helps to control carbon-dioxide emissions. Plants take in CO2 that will offset emissions.

Town development

With regard to town planning, eight neighbourhoods can be designed around a town centre. The town development plan allows for easy access to retail, healthcare and education facilities. According to Hammond, the town centre makes provision for a range of amenities, such as a shopping precinct with supermarkets, banking facilities, a post office, bakeries and restaurants. “This will further contribute to sustainable employment,” says Hammond.

The flexible architectural plan makes provision for up to 11 000 housing units within a 2km x 1km radius, with different precincts that include healthcare facilities, schools, churches, fire stations and community centres. Various types of properties could provide housing for up to 60 000 people. Everything is within a 1,5km walking distance from the town centre, making mobility easy.

The project aims to provide improved safety and security for residents – especially children. A greenbelt initiative will promote pedestrianisation, as well as shorter travelling distances. “It is about creating a safe, green space,” says Hammond.

The town plan also makes provision for a light industrial area, which provides further opportunities to develop skills.

Housing clusters
“As the proposed plan is based on a modular design system, one can have any number of designs to suit specific needs,” says Hammond. For example, the housing clusters present an opportunity for extended families to live together.

Housing will be built in clusters that can include up to 64 units. “Part of the solution is that all housing clusters are fully fitted,” says Hammond. The clusters will also include secure courtyards and an opportunity to plant vegetable gardens.

The design provides the following housing solutions: 
•    35-square-metre one-bedroom apartments.
•    48-square-metre two-bedroom units are ideal for families with children.
•    Three- and four-bedroom houses will be accommodated in smaller clusters.

A sense of community
The project has a strong community slant. Hammond says one of the most important focus areas of the project would be to develop neighbourhood communities. “We looked at how communities want to live. We found that it is not about where you live, but being close to the community,” says Hammond. There is currently a lack of community, which HLM Architects hopes to address with this design. “The aim is to provide a holistic community where people can flourish,” he adds.

Opportunities and monitoring
The single-source community development solution will be sustainable skills development, skills transfer and job creation, while residents will enjoy reduced living costs. The architectural plan makes provision for a variety of occupancy opportunities, such as renting, shared ownership and purchase.

One cannot overlook the fact that reconstruction and development (RDP) houses are falling apart. Thus, HLM Architects has developed concepts for on-site monitoring. “These types of projects must be monitored,” stresses Hammond.

HLM Architects are an International practice with offices in Johannesburg and Pretoria. They specialise in social architecture primarily healthcare, education, residential, emergency services and custodial. HLM have worked in association with Paul Silver for several years now. Paul is an American architect with 50 years of experience across all sectors of the profession and has been resident in Johannesburg since 1995.

HLM Architects
Sean Hammond
Cellphone: +27 79 791 7446
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

GIL Africa 2017