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Moving Foward Together: A Sustainable Way Foward for the Architectural Profession

In Zambia, as well as in the rest of Africa, western materials and construction techniques are rapidly replacing traditional ones, even in remote areas of the country. Traditional materials and construction techniques have connotations of being substandard with a significant number opting to use imported materials and even foreign consultants. With the influx of Computer Aided Design (CAD) packages , globalisation and architect collaborations with international clientele, it is evident that in just a few generations traditional techniques will continue not to be passed on to future generations and this part of Zambian culture could only a memory.

The Future of Design Incorporating 

Nature using a Taxonomy

Taxonomies are based on organizing things with shared characteristics. Zambia has a rich culture with 73 tribes existing peacefully and a tremendous mixing of cultures, which includes a mixing of architectural styles. These should be preserved via documentation and understanding why these traditional architectural relations work. It is imperative to see that traditional materials have the strength, comfort and beauty of modern applications. Once we discover and expose the content and context of all the current designs, this would inform all the next designs. A change in perception has the potential of supporting a vernacular architecture. Adding context to taxonomies reveals not only what things are, but also expresses what they are for, what they do, and how they work. People must be convinced that these structures are safe, structurally sound, beautiful and less expensive in the long run. Only then will people build in the vernacular, which is close to nature and is region specific.

The embracing of vernacular architecture with keeping at par with advancements in CAD can sustain-ably lead Zambia into the future.

Nature fundamentally designs by taking the best existing solution to a problem and iterating. The future of architecture is approaching an age where the entire building team, which could be based in several countries and of diverse disciplines can operate seamlessly as though they are under one roof by using the same Building Information Model (BIM) and infinite cloud computing, where one change in one area of the 3D model proposed by any member of building team, will simultaneously initiate a change in all associated consultant drawings whether it be structural, bill of quantities, mechanical or interior design views. Globally technology is heading towards the sophistication levels of nature, where instead of starting a design project from scratch, we could start by accessing every design, schematic, asset, and idea that has ever been created, to help solve one particular unprecedented design challenge. This can be done if we have a (3D) digital library to refer to, as being done presently in some mega western cities, with the aim to better plan future urban developments, while integrating daily, monthly, seasonal and annual data.

Real-time rendering, such as with Twinmotion, allows the client to virtually walk around their proposed structures, test out their kitchen space or virtually walk around the presidential suite of a new five star hotel, months or years before constructions are complete on site.

Added to this BIM models would be able to reference local mechanical engineering textbooks, building codes, supplier catalogues and real world examples, to solve our construction problems using our context, rather than coping and pasting foreign ideas.

Let CAD Do More of the Work for You

Zambian designs need to explore all of the solutions that optimize performance for our local conditions. CAD system eLearning and installation files can be found online at times for free. Added to this investments in conferences, such as the annual Autodesk University (AU) conferences, where over 16,000 attended last year (#AU2014), representing at least 74 countries around the world. Zambian designs need to evolve. But first we have to stop “telling the computer what to do,” and instead, start “telling the computer what we want to achieve.” With Generative Design, by giving the computer a set of parameters that express your overall goals, the system will use algorithms to explore all of the best possible permutations of a solution through successive generations, until the best one for that particular typology and situation is found.

Create Living Designs that Sense, Respond and Collaborate

Zambia, like the world, is constantly changing and yet our designs are dead designs or planned obsolescence that are not keeping up with these changes. The current solution, as with everything that is no longer useful, is to just throw out the old and bring in a new building. The fundamental difference is that the things we design now and make in the future must do three things: Sense, Respond, and Collaborate. A lot of people would call this the Internet of Things. Because the term implies a false hope of an emergent experience, what we really need is a “Community of Things” — a collection of individual entities designed to actively and purposefully work together. Incorporating climate, culture, available resources. Consequently the building team will set the stage for future generations to reach their potential sustainability.

Combine Nature and Technology

Looking ahead, our co-opting of Nature will eventually become more of a two-way cooperation, as the twin engines of technology and Nature are increasingly inter-twined, in a mutually beneficial dynamic. This is just the beginning. There are whole territories ahead where we can take Nature’s strengths and extend them with technology’s power: creating things that transcend the limits of both. Let us encourage continued learning and research in the field. On the one hand this sounds like some fairly mind-bending concepts, but on the other hand when we look closely around the globe, we can see that it has already started. The well designed built environment has the ability to promote health and well being, improve social norms and boost the economy. As a building team, it’s our job build today in our minds one click at a time, the Zambia we want to see tomorrow.

Chilombe Simwami MZIA, MSc, BSc Hons


What is safety to you?

Regardless of your profession in the construction industry or other industries alike, Safety by definition will vary from one individual to another but what stays the same is the need to keep the workforce safe from harm’s way so as to keep production running at full capacity as well as a means to stay clear of lawsuits which can be costly to foot through legal charges and compensations.

Personally, safety when simply put is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE, hereafter), or at least that is the first step. PPE is an ensemble of “adult-ware” gear worn by workmen so as to provide them with some level of protection from potential hazards which might exist within or around their work space.

Since construction is an equally sensitive industry, most if not all professions within this industry and other industries alike are required to provide PPE for their entire workforce in order to keep them safe as this ultimately translates into high production.

In my profession of an architect though; Work suits, Hard hats, Safety gloves and Safety boots is what amounts to PPE. Other professions especially those of the heavy duty kind will go on to demand for Safety goggles and a Respirator.

Safety Gloves
Work suits come in various sizes to fit various body sizes, from small to extra, extra large. These suits now come specially tailored for the two sexes of male and female, and they also come in distinct and copyright colours; which alone means that most establishments have corporate colours to identify each other by. My employers have lime green to identify their employers by and orange to identify firms contracted to them. Work suits are striped with a deep luster on the surface about the knees of the trousers and about the arms of the coat for enhanced visibility at whatever time of the day.

Hard hats on site are a must-have, and they should be made available to everyone present – especially near the work area – from the workforce to visitors. Hard hats provide protection to the head from falling objects so as to avoid head injuries.

Safety gloves might rarely be used on construction sites due to not attracting as much attention as the other gear do, but they are just as important, and like any other pair of gloves, these give protection to the hands and wrist area from cuts, abrasions and other hand injuries that might be caused during handling, i.e. handling of concrete works and handling of steel works. Because of what safety gloves have to handle, they are made of material with a rough texture for better gripping.

Protection to the foot area is offered by Safety boots from falling objects and from stepping onto sharp objects as and when carelessly placed on site. It would however be worth noting that safety boots need to be high tops (ankle highs if you will), and with a metal brace at the front of the boot for better protection since the main area of protection are the joints.

For works with small flying pieces that might be harmful to the eyes and the face generally, Safety goggles are recommended. These are only effective as when used on select types of projects. A pair fresh off the shelf will come with it rubber brackets to hang around the neck for support.

With the respirator, this works better at a plant or a mine. It is often used on works with high grime generation levels to shield the workman from inhaling contaminants. Regardless of the name, the respirator does not supply oxygen; therefore it is best used in a work space with generous oxygen supply so as to avoid suffocation.

Remember, safety at the work place ought to be of the utmost importance because a healthy workforce translates into a high return on the production and lawsuits are avoided.

Ngonga Kapalu


African Architecture

Africa was probably the place where people first built any kind of building, because people lived in Africa before they lived anywhere else. But those early huts didn’t last. The first buildings we know about are from Egypt: small stone tombs known as mastabas, built about 3000 BC. Egypt was first, because Egypt was the richest part of Africa, where trade with West Asia was easiest. By 2000 BC, people, maybe migrants from Spain and Italy, were also building stone tombs all across North Africa.

By that time, the Egyptians had moved on to building pyramids. The Egyptians started building the Pyramids about 2600 BC, when the Pharaohs first became rich enough to feed the huge numbers of people who must have worked to move all that stone. Nobody knew how to build walls and columns that would hold up a heavy roof yet, so the Pyramids are solid stone: that’s the easiest way to build something big.

A thousand years later, trade and wealth were spreading further south. African kings and queens in Nubia (modern Sudan) built mud-brick palaces at Kerma. They couldn’t afford to build in stone yet, but they could build in mud-brick. The buildings at Kerma have many rooms, and show their designers experimenting with circular buildings and rounded apses.

By about 2000 BC, architects in Egypt learned how to build temples using columns. At first they built temples of wood, with tree trunks for columns. Later they figured out how to make imitation tree trunks out of stone. Even the stone temples temples generally had wooden roofs, so that the roof would be lighter and the columns could hold it up. These were more expensive than mud-brick, but much cheaper to build than pyramids, because you didn’t need so much stone. Egyptian pharaohs built many temples and palaces during the New Kingdom, around 1500 to 1200 BC.

People in other parts of Africa were building houses and temples too, but they couldn’t afford the workers to build in stone. They built out of mud or wood, and their buildings haven’t lasted.

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