Business, Finance & Economics

Sandbag housing in South Africa

In this townships of South Africa, more than two million people live in one-room shanties made of scrapwood and sheet metal. But tent families are moving out as part of a small experiment in Cape Town. This man leads a team commissioned by a local foundation to develop new ideas for low cost homes. He says we had to be creative to find a new way of building. The South African government constructs about 250,000 homes for the poor each year but the single story, concrete block houses are widely criticized for being poorly designed and constructed. The new design is different: two stories instead of one, a balcony upstairs and space out back for gardening. It's only about 580 square feet, but the man says it's bigger and has more character than the homes the government builds. The building's most unusual features are its materials: sandbags which fill the housing frames. The designer says the sandbags are strong, durable, and also provide a good insulation against the weather. It takes 3,500 sandbags to build one of the new low-income homes. To save money, a dumptruck delivers the sand and community members fill the bags themselves. The designer says it adds value of people feel as if they're contributed to the construction of their house too. When the bags are in place, they're covered with plaster and the walls look something like stucco. This man has lived into one of the new houses, the first house he's ever known. Upstairs this teenager says his family finally has room to breath. Nine more houses are going up now, but it's not clear if the sandbag design will catch on. Cost overruns may push the price to double what it was originally billed for, but the design team plans to give away blueprints and budgets to the government and anyone else willing to take a chance on the design.

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