Better Living Challenge


About Our Finalists: Eco-struct, ARG Design & A3 Architects

Sep 25, 2014

Ingenious design delivers decent homes to low-income communities


Cape Town’s poorest communities are set to benefit from an eight-year quest to develop an environmentally sound and affordable housing solution.

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South Africans living in informal settlements face formidable challenges every day, especially when it comes to finding decent and affordable housing. In Cape Town, their problems are reinforced by the threat of shack blazes, rainy weather conditions and sandy soils that make it difficult to construct robust, stable dwellings.


Eight years ago, entrepreneur Bill Kirk, head of Joburg-based building systems specialists Eco-struct, set out on a journey to answer the urgent housing needs of low-income communities by devising an environmentally sustainable and cost-effective way of building them sound, stable homes. With singe-minded determination, he assembled a team of experts, professionals, and in-turn joined forces with two other businesses that shared his passion: ARG Design & A3 Architects.


ARG Design took responsibility for conceptualising the unit, with a particular emphasis on eliminating the factors that help to create slums. In conjunction with Eco-Struct and A3Architects they converted the concept into a patented building system and produced the final design plans/drawings. In May this year, their collective efforts paid off when the collaborative team won a City of Cape Town tender, which called for the ‘‘innovative design, supply and construction of temporary informal dwellings for a period of two years’’

 Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 11.40.25 AMImage: The Elevation & Perspective conceptual design plan.


According to Bill, the dwellings his joint team developed are specifically designed to meet the tender’s criteria by addressing Cape Town’s unique environmental and socio-economic challenges. “The City authorities were looking for a design that can be constructed in sandy, windy conditions, possibly on high water tables, in variable temperatures during winter and summer. We also had to address a number of other challenges including, for example, South Africa’s escalating construction costs and its shortage of skilled construction workers’’


“We met the brief with a panel that has already passed the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) stringent water penetration and fire retardancy tests. The final result is a sound, cost-effective, easily built, two-bedroomed shelter with kitchen and bathroom areas. Built on 2 storeys, these 31m2 semi-permanent units are targeted at communities affected by fire and water disasters in the informal settlements in and around the Cape Town Metropole”

 Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 11.38.54 AMImage: The Sectional Perspective of the design plan.


Not only are these units very affordable, but they are also designed to meet the highest environmental and energy efficiency standards. Using proven wood plastic composite (WPC) technology, the manufacturing process makes extensive use of waste materials such as alien vegetation and spent silica sand, along with waste plastic materials such as unwashed/flaked polypropylene (PP), high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and low-density polyethylene film (LDPF). Structures in Europe that incorporate similar WPC technology are still standing after 40 years in weather conditions that are even harsher than that of Cape Town.


Commenting on thier solution, a Better Living Challenge Showcase finalist, Bill says: “A combination of factors, apart from its ingenious design, make this solution unique. There is simply nothing else like it on the market. The extrusion and pressed technology it uses, results in a one millimetre tolerance per meter, which means one can erect the units with 100% accuracy even when using unskilled labour. Looking ahead, we expect to be completing around 160 newly constructed units monthly. That means 160 decent, robust and affordable homes, along with many decent jobs, every four weeks for the communities that need them most.”


‘’Another critically important aspect is that we would use approximately 75% of the labour required to erect said dwellings, from the affected communities, which combination of labour required to collect waste plastic, alien vegetation, manufacturing staff and the erection / building teams, would result in approximately 800 permanent sustainable jobs being created’’