written by:
October 12, 2009
Originally published in Back to Basics

In Mitchell’s Plain township in Cape Town, South Africa, living conditions are harsh. The congested urban landscape pushes kids into the streets to play. Poverty forces reliance on found materials for cobbling together shacks. Summers are hot, winters are cold, and relentless winds whip about the plentiful sand.
 

In September 2007, Luyanda Mpahlwa, principal of <a href=“http://mmaarch.co.za”>MMA Architects</a>, designed a two-story house with these factors in mind for <a href=“http://www.designindaba.com”>Design Indaba</a>’s <a href=“http://www.designindaba.com/pr
In September 2007, Luyanda Mpahlwa, principal of MMA Architects, designed a two-story house with these factors in mind for Design Indaba’s 10x10 Low-Cost Housing Project. The program tasked teams to create attractive, affordable housing schemes using innovative solutions. Pictured here is the Cape Town township before Mpahlwa’s sand-based buildings were constructed. Image courtesy Interactive Africa/ Design Indaba
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Mpahlwa took inspiration from the vernacular architecture of his youth in a rural part of the Eastern Cape, where people built homes from mud, water, and timber, to transform what is generally considered a nuisance—the abundance of sand—into an invaluable
Mpahlwa took inspiration from the vernacular architecture of his youth in a rural part of the Eastern Cape, where people built homes from mud, water, and timber, to transform what is generally considered a nuisance—the abundance of sand—into an invaluable resource for holding down a house. Members of the community, seen here, gathered together to pack bags full of sand. Image courtesy Interactive Africa/ Design Indaba
2 / 9
Before building the framework of the house with pine timber and galvanized metal, the workers piled sandbags on the ground to map out the home’s foundation. Image courtesy <a href=http://www.interactiveafrica.com">Interactive Africa</a>/<a href=http://www
Before building the framework of the house with pine timber and galvanized metal, the workers piled sandbags on the ground to map out the home’s foundation. Image courtesy Interactive Africa/ Design Indaba
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Once the frame of the house was constructed, the townspeople filled the wall space with sandbags. Here, Olga Jonkers uses a handmade tool to compact the bags that will become the walls of her future home. Image courtesy <a href=http://www.interactiveafric
Once the frame of the house was constructed, the townspeople filled the wall space with sandbags. Here, Olga Jonkers uses a handmade tool to compact the bags that will become the walls of her future home. Image courtesy Interactive Africa/ Design Indaba
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After the walls of the first-floor frames were filled tightly with sandbags, the workers plastered wire mesh onto the exterior. Image courtesy <a href=http://www.interactiveafrica.com">Interactive Africa</a>/<a href=http://www.designindaba.com"> Design In
After the walls of the first-floor frames were filled tightly with sandbags, the workers plastered wire mesh onto the exterior. Image courtesy Interactive Africa/ Design Indaba
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The plastered-wire-mesh finish gives the homes the look of a house constructed of bricks or concrete, “like any other building," Mpahlwa says. In this photo, the frames for the second floor have been erected and are partially filled with sandbags. Once co
The plastered-wire-mesh finish gives the homes the look of a house constructed of bricks or concrete, “like any other building," Mpahlwa says. In this photo, the frames for the second floor have been erected and are partially filled with sandbags. Once completely filled, it too will be covered in mesh and plaster. Image courtesy Interactive Africa/ Design Indaba
6 / 9
Though the design itself was a success, the lack of economies of scale made it a challenge to keep the construction costs low. About 1,000 homes would have needed to be built to keep the price tag at the original budget of $6,175 per house. Instead the co
Though the design itself was a success, the lack of economies of scale made it a challenge to keep the construction costs low. About 1,000 homes would have needed to be built to keep the price tag at the original budget of $6,175 per house. Instead the costs came in at over $10,000. Image courtesy Interactive Africa/ Design Indaba
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Here, Mpahlwa stands in front of a half-completed house. “We should be working toward ensuring that projects like these are not once off, but sustained,” he says. “If you believe in an idea, give it your all. That means give it time, have a passion for it
Here, Mpahlwa stands in front of a half-completed house. “We should be working toward ensuring that projects like these are not once off, but sustained,” he says. “If you believe in an idea, give it your all. That means give it time, have a passion for it. Have the curiosity to find out what is happening in the world around you." Image courtesy Interactive Africa/ Design Indaba
8 / 9
Artist Hans Jonkers, who previously lived in a shack with his wife, Olga, and six children, was initially wary of calling a house built of sand home. But once he understood the new building system, he was more than happy to move in through the cherry-red
Artist Hans Jonkers, who previously lived in a shack with his wife, Olga, and six children, was initially wary of calling a house built of sand home. But once he understood the new building system, he was more than happy to move in through the cherry-red front door. Concrete, which is often made using sand as an aggregate, isn’t about to lose its status in South Africa any time soon, but for these first-time homeowners, sand in any other form is just as sweet. Image courtesy Interactive Africa/ Design Indaba
9 / 9
In September 2007, Luyanda Mpahlwa, principal of <a href=“http://mmaarch.co.za”>MMA Architects</a>, designed a two-story house with these factors in mind for <a href=“http://www.designindaba.com”>Design Indaba</a>’s <a href=“http://www.designindaba.com/pr
In September 2007, Luyanda Mpahlwa, principal of MMA Architects, designed a two-story house with these factors in mind for Design Indaba’s 10x10 Low-Cost Housing Project. The program tasked teams to create attractive, affordable housing schemes using innovative solutions. Pictured here is the Cape Town township before Mpahlwa’s sand-based buildings were constructed. Image courtesy Interactive Africa/ Design Indaba

In September 2007, Luyanda Mpahlwa, principal of MMA Architects, designed a two-story house with these factors in mind for Design Indaba’s 10x10 Low-Cost Housing Project. The program tasked ten building teams to create attractive, affordable housing schemes using innovative solutions. In the end, ten of Mpahlwa’s designs were built.

Before building the framework of the house with pine timber and galvanized metal, the workers piled sandbags on the ground to map out the home’s foundation. Image courtesy <a href=http://www.interactiveafrica.com">Interactive Africa</a>/<a href=http://www
Before building the framework of the house with pine timber and galvanized metal, the workers piled sandbags on the ground to map out the home’s foundation. Image courtesy Interactive Africa/ Design Indaba

Mpahlwa took inspiration from the vernacular architecture of his youth in a rural part of the Eastern Cape, where people built homes from mud, water, and timber, to transform what is generally considered a nuisance—the abundance of sand—into an invaluable resource for holding down a house. Unskilled laborers packed bags full of sand and piled them between pieces of pine timber and galvanized metal
to create and fill the frames.

They plastered wire mesh on the exteriors, giving the buildings as solid and finished a look as those constructed of bricks or concrete. Though the design itself was a success, the lack of economies of scale made it a challenge to keep the construction costs low. About 1,000 homes would have needed to be built to keep the price tag at the original budget of $6,175 per house. Instead the costs came in at over $10,000.

Artist Hans Jonkers, who previously lived in a shack with his wife, Olga, and six children, was initially wary of calling a house built of sand home. But once he understood the new building system, he was more than happy to move in through the cherry-red front door. Concrete, which is often made using sand as an aggregate, isn’t about to lose its status in South Africa any time soon, but for these first-time homeowners, sand in any other form is just as sweet.

To see more images of Mpahlwa’s sand-built homes under construction, view our slideshow

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