Heidi Boulanger – University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
Rescripting Mud: a study on 21st-century Brick(works)
Brick-making is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous construction methods on earth. The brick has been in circulation for at least 9000 years, and has been absorbed as a vernacular building material in countless cultures, from Africa to the Middle East, Europe to South America. Despite its undeniably simple manufacturing process (“mix mud, water and bake”), the inherent craft of brick-making and masonry construction allows for virtually endless possibilities in construction – allowing the brick to become a literal building block for cultural expression. Bricks are a “global” construction material (using universal sizes and construction methods) yet remain definitively “local” (using local clays, bonds and skills and ageing gracefully in every climate). It is also a building material that can be used vastly different socio-economic conditions, acting as a mediator between affluent and disadvantaged communities.
One could argue that the longevity and ubiquity of the brick alone should define it as one of the most sustainable construction materials on earth. However, contemporary critics are questioning its sustainability by citing high-embodied energy, labor-intensive construction, design restrictions and negative environmental impacts. Rapid advances in “modern” construction methods such as polymers, pre-fabrication and 3-d printing is placing further pressure on relevance of the brick.Brick|Work|s (PDF, 12.02 MB) »
The first of four Next Generation prizes in the region went to Heidi van Eeden from South Africa. She is developing new sustainable methods of brickmaking in Soshanguve township, South Africa. The second prize went to Nour Madi, Jad Melki and Ghaith Abi Ghanem from Lebanon. They are investigating ways of rebuilding the war-ravaged city of Aleppo in Syria using the rubble of destroyed buildings. Nada Nafeh from Egypt received the third prize in this category. With her project, she aims to improve living conditions in informal settlements in Cairo. The fourth prize went to Noor Marji of Jordan. She proposes a monumental terraced learning center in Amman, Jordan.Read more »
The project “Brick-Works” is based on a critique of unsustainable practices in the production of red bricks and proposes instead a set of principles to improve the sustainable performance of the brick-making industry. Going beyond technical exigencies, the proposal envisions brick-making as a catalyst of community-building – as demonstrated in the particular case of the apartheid township of Soshanguve in South Africa. The community currently relies on informal trade and subsistence farming to survive, and lacks the necessary infrastructure as well as skills for further development. By introducing a single kiln to this rural context, a culture of brick-making is incrementally established over time. As the community grows, socio-economic conditions gradually improve and new urban nodes are formed around the production facility.
The jury greatly appreciated the project’s bold critical as well as visionary stance and particularly the notion of using local construction industries to stimulate community-building at the local level. The author’s vision of “brick-works” as a living structure – an ensemble of buildings which expands and matures with the township by literally constructing both itself and its surrounding context – is a true contribution to the discourse on sustainable construction. Rather than perceiving the construction material industry as an abstract entity removed from daily life, the project promotes the integration of production facilities as places for gathering, working, building, learning, and living.
People + Prosperity - A living ‘building’ which grows and matures with its community
Brickworks proposes a sensitive, bottom-up approach to community development through sustainable industry. The building is designed to grow organically out of a spatial catalyst - a kiln - which provides an introduction to basic brickmaking and pottery skills training. The remainder of the Brickworks is subsequently constructed in phases, which encourages the community to systemically absorb the skills and knowledge required to run a complex industry. Over time, an artistic language in pottery and clay-based craft will emerge throughout the township. The proposed intervention therefore establishes a platform for economic opportunity, encourages skills training and generates urban energy, while developing a socio-cultural language centered around clay, ideal for tourism and trade.
Place – Establishing a craft-based local identity through slow-architecture
Brickworks allows inhabitants of the township to create their own spatial environments. By stablishing brickmaking as a new trade, masonry products become readily-available building materials, and the township emerges as a blank canvas for newfound skills and creativity. Over time, Brickworks will therefore generate its own physical context and embed itself into Soshanguve’s architectural landscape. As the surrounding urban context develops, needs of people will also mature from basic (e.g. job creation/food production) to complex (e.g. artistic expression/socio-cultural interaction). Should the need for brickmaking ever become obsolete, various parts of the building could be re-programmed as an urban market, food storage silo, community hall, tourist center and social housing.
Planet – Industrial ecology and full-cycle regenerative production
Brickworks is designed to encourage interaction between social, industrial and ecological activity. Brick-making itself was re-structured to reduce the harmful emissions traditionally associated with the process: An industrial ecology within the building harvests energy and transfers it to where it is needed. Fly-ash (air pollution caused by kilns) is up-cycled and used as brick additive and fertilizer. In addition, the need for transport is omitted by locating a clay quarry next to the Kiln. As clay extraction moves from one site to the next, each quarry is rehabilitated into a water-body which will serve as reservoir and aquaculture site. Eventually, Brickworks will be surrounded by a landscape dotted with lakes and wetlands, restoring natural habitat and biodiversity to Soshanguve.See more
A brick kiln and incremental development project for Soshanguve in South Africa results in something much more than just …
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