Architect wins South African National Award for sustainable design

Paul Marais, an architect and Professional Doctorate student studying a Doctorate in Ecological Building Practices pathway (D.EBP) at Cardiff School of Art and Design, has won a South African National Award for Sustainable Design.

Paul’s design for Otto Cottage was submitted by one of his clients and won the AfriSam-SAIA Award for Sustainable Architecture + Innovation. The award recognises contributions that bring sustainable innovation to living environments through an integrated approach to communities, planning, and design, architecture, building practice, natural systems and technology.

Project entries are required to demonstrate how they make the world a better place by minimising the environmental impact of building. The projects are also required to bear the hallmarks of great architectural or social design.

Otto Cottage in Maun, Botswana, is hand-made using natural materials comprised of rammed earth from the site on which Otto Cottage is built, timber and locally harvested reeds; dramatically decreasing the carbon footprint of the construction process. Paul’s ecological design for Otto Cottage also includes using water from a nearby river in order to help ‘free’ cool the house through a series of external water features; minimising the need for the use of mains water.

Paul is pioneering the Rammed Earth Construction design and construction process in South Africa, which is a natural construction technique that has a minimal requirement for equipment, being primarily constructed hand, without the use of machines. Earth, often from the construction site itself, is compressed into compartments by Paul and his staff to construct the structure for the building, including both internal and exterior walls.

As part of Paul’s work for his D.EBP research he has been raising the awareness of the effectiveness of rammed earth construction as one solution for ecologically sustainable dwellings, to meet the demand for a large number of new houses that are needed in South Africa. As part of raising the awareness for rammed earth construction Paul has interviewed a range of people who have visited the buildings he has designed and constructed, to obtain their opinions on the design, construction technique and general feeling inside and outside the buildings. Paul will be extending these surveys in 2017, to obtain further evidence for his research towards his D.EBP. This research work also includes teaching local people the techniques needed to build rammed earth houses, in order to give them the skills they need to build their own houses independently to contribute towards solving South Africa’s housing demand.

Paul has developed a quality measurement tool for assessing the strength of rammed earth walls, by adapting a technique used in road-building, which has never been done before.

On his design, Paul said:

I enjoyed designing and building Otto cottage tremendously. I really enjoy natural building techniques, as opposed to conventional building because of the creative freedom and the fact that the building is not harmful to mankind or the planet and its ecosystem and resources. I was able to create large monolithic surfaces, like beautiful artwork that resonates deeply with people most people caress the walls.

“Rammed Earth construction has many advantages over traditional brick construction in that there is no cement used in the construction of rammed earth walls. The production of cement is highly damaging to the landscape from mining the raw materials to the production process which uses significant amounts of energy, with considerable carbon dioxide emissions from these processes.

“Rammed Earth Construction takes nothing from the earth’s planetary resources and therefore only touches lightly the sites where these structures are built. In addition, rammed earth walls are breathable meaning internal air quality is very good in buildings using this construction technique, unlike brick built walls which are not breathable. There are many other advantages of rammed earth construction including lower construction costs, because the materials for the walls come from the site on which the building is situated.”

Dr John Littlewood, Senior Lecturer in Cardiff School of Art & Design (CSAD), the Professional Doctorate Coordinator and the Head of the Ecological Built Environment group in the school, foundered the Ecological Building Practices pathway as part of the University’s Professional Doctorate programme in 2009 (the first pathway in CSAD).

John said:

“I’d like to congratulate Paul on his ecological approach to design and constructing affordable dwellings in South Africa and particularly for all his hard work and effort to raise the awareness of rammed earth construction in the country. He truly deserves the recognition for his outstanding work of not just designing ecological and sustainable buildings but also constructing the buildings himself, which is not that common for Architects, and helping local people to work alongside him, whereby they benefit in developing the construction skills themselves for their families and communities.

“As Paul’s Director of Studies for his D.EBP research I am honoured as is Professor George Karani (Paul’s second supervisor from Cardiff School of Health Sciences) to play a part in guiding Paul through the process of changing housing construction practice and people’s opinions in South Africa, by using this truly ecologically and sustainable low cost construction technique in a country with a growing housing crisis in 2016.”

Paul works and lives in South Africa, where he runs his own architectural practice specialising in a variety of work from urban design to tiny cottages. The majority of his designs are residential but he has also designed hospitals and clinics.

His personal interest in sustainable design, developed through designing energy efficient buildings and incorporating measures in energy efficiency, renewable energy, water and sewerage provision into his work, led him to pursue further study at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

In Paul’s D.EBP he seeks to highlight, through academia linked to his professional practice, the advantages that natural building such as rammed earth construction has.  Paul has already presented one paper documenting his research in Portugal in 2015, at the 7th Sustainability and Energy in Buildings International conference, which was highlighted as truly original and significant work. The doctorate is helping Paul to create documentation to assist others in South Africa and the wider region to design and build rammed earth buildings, which are ecological, affordable, durable and high quality.

On his D.EBP, Paul said

“It involves creating change in the professional area that I work in, in pioneering sustainable ecological design and practise.  I am working at both designing buildings that have a lower ecological footprint in construction, as well as being energy efficient in their daily use.  I am researching new construction techniques and have pioneered a cement free approach to rammed earth foundations.”

To view Paul’s winning design video click here.