Better Living Challenge


Better Living: Just another CO2 brick in the corn cob wall

Apr 11, 2014

The answer to better living standards lies in design and innovation. Design is the tool that enables governments, communities and individuals to address the challenges housing a growing population.

In South Africa, there is an urgent need for immediate, sustainable housing solutions using – where possible – readily available, low-cost materials and accessible construction methods. At the same time, it is imperative that designers and innovators develop and deploy new technologies and new construction methods that can support growing urban communities.

Two projects exemplify how smart design can transform lives, which is the essence of the Better Living Challenge.

Better Living: Carbon Dioxide Bricks

The first project, developed by TIS & Partners, a Japanese construction and design firm, uses carbon dioxide to create bricks that are two-and-a-half times the tensile strength of concrete. The bricks are made from a simple process of moulding sand with high silicone content in an airtight mould. Carbon dioxide is pumped into the mould, bonding with the silica in less than a minute. After infusing the bricks with a binder such as epoxy or urethane, the bricks are stronger than concrete within 24 hours.


Better Living Challenge: Carbon Dioxide Bricks

CO2 Bricks developed by contractors in Japan, using carbon dioxide, sand and a binder, have proven to be 2.5 times stronger than concrete. (photo credit unknown. Image drawn from


The process means that bricks can be created quickly when time is of the essence. Their strength reduces or eliminates the need to add steel reinforcing during construction. The product developers predict that the bricks will have a 50-year lifespan, with the added bonus that they could be a valuable method of carbon sequestration.

Better Living: Particleboard Tables

The second initiative is a research project that involves turning agricultural waste into building materials. The research showed how waste from rice, maize and cassava crop production can be recycled and reconstituted to form composite boards for building materials. The project – a collaboration between Charles Job, Nigerian Professor of Architecture and Design Theory Bachelor Architecture, and Bern University of Applied Arts – produced prototypes of interlocking panels to form tables. The prototypes indicate that the same technique can be used to create walls for low-cost, sustainable housing. The waste materials from corn cobs, rice husks and groundnut shells offer a sustainable alternative to cement and imported timber products. Recycling natural materials also helps to reduce pollution released by the residue of the plant-based waste.


Better Living Challenge: Particleboard Tables

Prototype particleboard tables created from recycled plant waste could form the basis for low-cost, sustainable building materials (photo credit unknown. Image drawn from


These are just two examples of what the Better Living Challenge hopes to achieve: to find designs that can truly transform lives. The Better Living Challenge was conceived to find sustainable, innovative solutions to help growing populations build decent homes.

Do you also have an idea of how to improve lives? An idea that can transform our communities? Why not enter the Better Living Challenge and see your idea become a reality. Remember – entries close on 31 May!