Alternative home building technologies

20 Feb 2013

The year 2013 will mark the coming of age of alternative building technologies (ABTs) on the Southern African construction landscape – and the urgent need for housing and associated infrastructure delivery will be its main driver.

The year 2013 will mark the coming of age of alternative building technologies (ABTs) on the Southern African construction landscape – and the urgent need for housing and associated infrastructure delivery will be its main driver.

This is the view of Brent Harris, a civil engineer and one of the pioneers and innovators behind the development of modern-day ABTs in South Africa as a cost, time and skills efficient alternative to conventional building materials and methods.

“All the fundamentals are in place for a watershed year for ABTs which, I believe, is set to become one of the growth industries of the decade,” says Harris.

Harris is also the founder and chief executive officer of Gauteng based Vela Building Solutions, Africa’s leading manufacturer and supplier of ABTs products and systems.

He bases this view on a number of key factors, which include:

1. The South African Government’s intention to go ahead with the long-awaited implementation of the National Development Plan, which has huge implications for the ABTs sector – particularly in the fast-track provision of schools, healthcare facilities, and housing

2. President Jacob Zuma’s recent statement (at the Presidential Infrastructure Investment Conference in Sandton) that the State is poised to invest R844 billion on infrastructure development over the next three years alone

3. The urgent need to upgrade the multitude of informal settlements – both at home and in other Southern African countries – that have resulted from rampant urbanisation.

4. The growing requirements for housing and other community facilities to support the proliferation of new regional oil, coal, gas and other natural resource exploitation projects – not least in Mozambique, Angola and the DRC.

5. Provision of temporary shelter and other amenities for local communities that are displaced and resettled to make way for major public and private sector development projects.

6. The uplifting of mining community housing, including the stated intention by some employers to provide homeownership options

7. An expected sharp increase in the tempo of nationwide construction of new schools, and the replacement of almost 500 mud schools and other inappropriate school structures.

“There is no way that this magnitude of infrastructural rollout can be achieved by way of conventional (bricks and mortar) construction alone – not least because if the huge pool of skills that would be needed to make it happen,” says Harris.

He says the biggest issue with using traditional construction methods is that there is too much reliance on the skills of the builder – in a labour environment in which skilled workers are in short supply.

ABTs-based construction circumvents that problem because the elementary skills required can be quickly taught on site, he explains.

Vela Building Solutions last year doubled its production capacity to cater for existing and anticipated demand in South Africa and sub-Sahara for its home-grown range of ABTs products and systems.

At the same time, the company established local operations in Mozambique and Namibia, and reinforced its deep market footholds in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Zambia, he adds.

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