BrandonHere is the concluding part of Jumia House’s interview with the designer, Brandon Rogers. We explore sustainable ways of constructing homes and have an in-depth look at his method of building with earthbags.

Building the Rural Areas Up!

Brandon Rogers believes many people migrate from the rural to urban areas for various reasons. One of the leading reasons being in search of better opportunities, according to the designer, a way of alleviating this problem is to develop our villages, “If we build up the village, there will be less of a need for people to leave; with the abundance of space and natural resources the rural villages become the perfect platform to build better sustainable communities.”

His organization, Migrating Culture is doing their part by showcasing examples of both traditionally inspired round houses and rectilinear conventional housing types that utilize the Earth Bag method; which they believe is a step toward checking rural-urban migration. Brandon likes to say, “Our ideas are more than logical; their eco+logical”.

Building with Mud

“Green Building is a combination of good design and practical, conscious material use. It is imperative that we create a palette of materials which is realistic and available to us. Homeowners cannot rely on importing everything they need to build homes; this does not strengthen the local economy.”

Brandon believes that mud or adobe construction techniques should be a standard building practice and that these methods can easily integrate into conventional building practices, where there is the opportunity to replace the common sand-crete block with a mud block. “It is important to remove the stigma that building with mud is a sign of poverty; whereas it’s actually smarter and practical to build with it.” He says.

The Earth Bag Method

Brandon believes the mud or the clay and laterite should be used even for conventional buildings and there is the need to replace the sandcrete block with mud block. “It is important to remove the stigma that building with mud, which is a sign of poverty; it’s smarter and more practical to build with mud.” He says.

Advantages of Building with Earth Bags

According to the designer, scientifically, the thermal properties of the earthen soil is what makes building with adobe beneficial. Walls made of adobe keep you naturally cooler and can be engineered to outperform current conventions. Such as building with sand-crete blocks, made with a mixture of sand and concrete – sand being composed of fine particles of stone, which is a very coarse and brittle material. When blocks are made of sand or course materials such as quarry dust and heat from contact with the sun the material needs room to react – when something is hot it expands and when it cools, it contracts. Brandon says, “During this process of weathering, a lot of the conventional concrete buildings develop cracks. Whereas the clay in the earthen soil is plastic and gives room for expansion and contraction and so it interacts with the climate and environment better. A good example can be seen in our traditional mud or Atakpame house, it’s always cool inside because of the thermal mass of the earthen walls even when the sun is shining bright. This coupled with the overall fact that the mud is everywhere, makes it a practical material to use.”

Challenges of using the Earth Bag method

Brandon lists some of the challenges of building with mud:

1. “One of the biggest challenges is overcoming the perception or the stigma attached to building with mud. That only poor people build mud houses and that it is an inferior building material.

2. Also with the Earth Bag technique, this method is a labor and material rich process; therefore it is best suited for rural areas where there is an abundance of both human and material resources.

In urban areas adobe blocks can be mass produced and used in line with the typical building conventions. In our cities, there is a lot of stuff going on; often there is no room to fix or to pre-plan ideas; streamlined approaches are needed.

In the rural areas there is an abundance of space and opportunity to plan and create spaces that interconnect the community better with the environment. I choose to focus on the villages so that we develop them to a level that grows beyond the village.” Brandon said.

The cost of building with Earth Bags

Brandon says, “The initial cost is not significantly cheaper than that of the conventional building type; because it’s only the wall systems that we are changing. You still buy the same doors, windows, tile, roofing and other typical building components.  With this method it also really depends on where you are building and the ease and availability of materials. Altogether I’d say the initial construction cost will be 10% or 20% cheaper; and over the life cycle of the house you will save in maintenance cost and benefit from superior performance.

To give you a better example about the cost, the first prototype Migrating Culture constructed was the equivalent of a two-bedroom house probably a little more than 100 square meter or 1000 square feet. It costs us roughly 35,000 cedis in building materials and labor expenses to erect that structure. Though keep in mind this project was completed back in 2010, so that would be the equivalent of about $ 25,000 USD now for the building alone. Also with this method a lot of the cost goes into labor, because the technique is a manually intensive process – this is a method that best suites family use. Large families can organize and call all their members together to help build one house, and then they can all move to the next house and so on saving on the labor expenses. It’s really about enabling individuals with a practical method that builds on a traditional technique, which has been engineered a step further to better perform and last longer.” He concluded.

Other Environment-friendly Advice

Think Solar – the sun is always shining bright and that is an abundant source of energy. Its collection can strengthen the energy sector, alleviating our current energy shortages and reduce our dependence on conventional methods of energy production. It also builds on the type of social responsible approaches we need to instill for a better tomorrow.