Better Living Challenge


BLC explores DigiYard – connecting construction companies to small-scale builders

Sep 02, 2019

DigiYard, conceptualised for an internal Arup ideas competition, is a digital platform that will facilitate the flow of usable construction ‘waste’ and surplus building material from construction sites to informal settlement upgrading projects. The platform aims to reduce construction waste in landfills whilst addressing the need for affordable, quality building materials in the informal housing sector. DigiYard, created by Carin de Beer, Jaco Kemp and Kausar Khan of Arup, is currently in a pilot phase.

Arup have engaged external partners in the construction industry operating both in the formal and informal sector to help execute this. Most recently, there has been a proof of concept between two such organisations confirming a model of willing seller/willing buyer.

The Better Living Challenge (BLC) recently participated in a brainstorm session hosted by Arup to explore the future development of the DigiYard platform. BLC provided crucial input by leveraging their network in the informal building sector as well as bringing industry specific insights into the conversation. Key stakeholders brought to the session by the BLC included small-scale builders and artisans from low-income communities.

Just a day after the session, the first successful materials exchange took place with a local carpenter collecting two loads of wood from a building site at the V&A Waterfront (image below). To date the carpenter has already built furniture from the timber. The recipient of the material commented on the economic opportunities that the material will unlock in the community in terms of job creation.

Earlier this year, the BLC ran a first-of-its-kind skills development incubator in the Western Cape that provided a group of these small-scale builders operating in the informal housing sector the chance to develop their technical design and building skills, as well as business acumen. Five of the small-scale builders who participated in the BLC incubator participated at the Arup brainstorm session.

The BLC looks at the gaps within the informal housing sector and makes the most of new collaborative possibilities between sectors. The stakeholders attending the Arup brainstorm session included representatives from GreenCape – the green economy sector development agency, ikhayalami – who are directly involved in the incremental upgrading of homes, and local construction company WBHO. WBHO has been a champion of the DigiYard platform from the outset and and a first mover in participating on the pilot, in line with their corporate social and environmental targets.

In their operations, construction companies undertake projects such as refurbishments of existing buildings or new projects/builds. These types of projects regularly give rise to surplus materials or re-useable waste materials. While some percentage of this material is donated or reused, a lot of material continues to go to landfills.

“We were interested through the workshop to look into ways of connecting these big companies with small-scale builders in communities around Cape Town. We delved into some key areas to gain a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges. We looked at how to create a way for the small builders to be notified of the available material, as well as what small-scale builders need in order for a network such as this to be viable,” says Erica Elk, the BLC’s project manager.

Some of the challenges identified included a need for safe storage places for materials, transportation of materials to or by small-scale builders, ensuring material quality is adequate for use, communication of materials being available, and distribution control of the building materials.

The workshop discussed ways in which the challenges could be overcome, and solutions were drafted to address the needs of both the construction companies and the small-scale builders.

“One of the things we looked at was access via mobile phones. This marketplace could be created as an app or use existing popular communication applications as the backbone,” says Elk.

The idea gave rise to incorporating a WhatsApp group into the pilot, of the stakeholders and builders, which resulted in an immediate positive result where the first materials exchange took place.

“We are excited to bridge the gap between the supply and demand of these valuable resources. Technology could allow us to solve this problem in a way that is not only convenient but also sustainable and uplifting,” concludes DigiYard co-creator Carin de Beer.

The DigiYard pilot will run for the next six months. The objective of the pilot is to learn, gather data and progress towards turning this idea into a sustainable platform with longevity in the sector.

Arup is an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists working across every aspect of today’s built environment.

The Better Living Challenge (BLC), a project of the Craft and Design Institute (CDI), is funded by the Western Cape Department of Human Settlements (DOHS), and the Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDAT).