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A Kozi Little Home
Jamais Cascio, 26 Oct 05

This is the kind of leapfrog innovation that we really love around here: Cape Town, South Africa-based n'Kozi Homes has come up with a home design that mixes Buckminster Fuller and local materials. The dome homes are designed to be compatible with a variety of environmentally-sustainable utilities, from waterless toilets to solar power. The costs are remarkably low, too: a ready-to-live house, 33 meters square, complete with plumbing and power, would run about $10,000.

(Via NextBillion -- Thanks, Rob!)

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Comments

Is this sustainable? there can't be much of bucky fuller left to mix with local materials


Posted by: Flannel Flower on 26 Oct 05

Maybe this is a bit expensive, given the fact that 50% of South Africa's people live below the poverty line and own less than 11% of the country's GDP. (Millions live with 2/3 dollars a day.)

Maybe a $1000 house is more appropriate. But then, there are many organisations making $1000 houses. The n'Kozi homes are obviously luxury houses for the wealthy South African lower middle classes.

Moreover, I don't really see the difference between a traditional thatched hut which costs $200 and the n'Kozi home - except for the fact that traditional mud-huts are far more sustainable, robust and environmentally friendly.

This is not a very good project, is it?


Posted by: Lorenzo on 26 Oct 05

I quickly wanted to add that there are 1.3 million AIDS orphans living in South Africa alone. These kids make 0 to 1 dollars a day. They need $500 homes.


Posted by: Lorenzo on 26 Oct 05

To house very poor people all you do is make one large home with ALOT of very small bedrooms and a common set of bathrooms and kitchen area and a common living area.

Basicaly a new twist on the old long house design.


Posted by: wintermane on 26 Oct 05

Lorenzo's point is a good one; however, according to the N'Kozi Homes web site, a 33 square meter design without the mezzanine option but with 2 electricity fixtures and sewage hook up costs R20,000 (just under US$3,000). The $10,000 figure is when you add in solar panels and low-flush toilets. Rather than quibble over cost, however, is it worthwhile to get N'Kozi to scale, so that it might spread its core costs over more units, bringing price down? Meanwhile, South African banks are mandated under a government charter to serve underserved (read: black) communities. How about low-cost mortgages for N'Kozi Homes? Finally, I'd ask if you can build a $1000 house that can withstand natural disasters, weather shifts, and wear-and-tear. If there's an example of it, that'd be truly WorldChanging.


Posted by: Rob on 27 Oct 05

@Rob, you are right in pointing out that if the system spreads, the costs may come down. And $3000 is more reasonable indeed. Social loans are an option, but I'm not sure if they exist in SA?
About the $1000 houses that withstand natural disasters: ordinary $200,000 houses don't withstand disasters, the nKosi homes don't withstand them either so that's not really the issue, I think.
But I definitely know of projects (in Burundi and Rwanda) building very decent simple basic brick homes costing no more than $1000 (basic amenities included - a water-pipe extension and a grid extension) using nothing but locally available resources. I'm not an expert, I saw this on TV.
But I know there's a very old tradition in ultra low-cost housing research and projects, with the UN Habitat's programmes and hundreds of other organisations having worked on this in the developing world for decades now.
I also seem to remember that the famous socially active architects of the 1960s and 1970s in India and Brazil and Europe, built ULC homes.
I really can't imagine the cost of basic houses for the poor still being at $10,000 levels - not after decennia of work on this front.
Maybe Cameron Sinclair of Architecture for Humanity knows more about this.
Anyway, I'm always surprized to see that apparently so many people don't know what poverty in Africa really means and how much poor people there really are.


Posted by: Lorenzo on 27 Oct 05

I wish I could feel more hopeful about this.

The domes *will* leak. They are designed to leak. They are compared to traditional African structures, but they're not: the construction systems are vastly different, with the traditional systems have overlapping, redundant materials. These are panelized. They rely on sealant. If they will leak without sealant, then they will leak.

These homes will be very difficult to alter, expand, or adapt. When you have little money, you need time to work for you: you need to pick away at things, slowly, over time, with the meager resources you can muster. These homes don't let time work for their owners.

I understand what Lorenzo is saying. But I think people don't need cheaper homes - they need more ability to afford a home. At a certain point, designing for poverty is like inventing recipes for famine. "Stone soup" doesn't work if all you really have is stones.


Posted by: David Foley on 27 Oct 05

Thank you James for picking this up from NextBillion and thank you Rob for introducing me to worldchanging.com.
To comment on the post by Flannel Flower; The idea and concept needs to be sustainable in order to be successful and to make an impact. There is no reason why it cannot be sustainable; we have the natural and necessary sustainable resources in materials and human capital! What exactly do you mean “there can’t be much of Bucky Fuller left to mix with local materials?”
My comment to Lorenzo: Expensive is a relative term. Our structures cost approximately $330 per square meter completely built to specifications that you would be happy to live in Lorenzo. The average government current published price for building with brick and mortar is $630 per square meter. If there are many organizations building $1000 houses, I would like to know about them, maybe even one or two, especially in South Africa and remember cardboard and plastic don’t count! Lorenzo, you are obviously unfamiliar with South Africa if you think n’Kozi Homes at $10,000 are luxury houses for “wealthy South African lower middle classes.” The reality here is if you are wealthy, you are not lower middle class, you are upper class! If you are lower middle class, you could be purchasing traditional houses up to about $100,000. Keep in mind, South Africa is one of very few countries that have housing subsidies available for the poorer citizens. The current full subsidy is R31,500 or about $5000- almost half of a completed structure. At this point, provided the applicants have income, usually from employment, they qualify for “top-off financing” and this is where the banks and other financial institutions have the opportunity of serving the underserved. Although in reality and to a certain degree, it does not matter how ingenious or innovative the housing idea and concept and no matter how inexpensively a contractor could build it, there are simply those who cannot afford to purchase. The problem then becomes one that is more of an economic problem than that of a housing problem and there are various ways to deal with this. See my post at http://www.omidyar.net/group/community-general/news/885/
Lorenzo, I am pleased you do not see much difference between a traditional thatched hut (that cost $200) and a n’Kozi Home,….” I like to think of an n’Kozi Home as a modern version of a traditional thatched hut and would love to see n’Kozi Homes with thatched roofs. The reality however is that a thatched roof on a n’Kozi Home would cost more than the entire home. The reason for this is that Cape Town is the export capital for thatching materials and the local price has to now compete against an export price. So a traditional thatched hut for $200 is a fantasy. I agree that traditional thatched huts are sustainable, robust and environmentally friendly, perhaps more so than a n’Kozi Home but then again not as inherently strong and lightweight or as versatile or as quick to erect an n’Kozi Home. As you can see I believe it is a very good project indeed and so did the judges at the Age of Innovation & Sustainability Awards giving me the ultimate accolade of Grand Prix winner at the 2005 awards function for the company’s multi-faceted approach to redressing some of the country’s most pressing socio-economic issues.
Lorenzo, it seems to me that you think an AIDS orphan making 0-1$ a day, needs a $500 house, jeez dude, where are you coming from? Just cause they’re poor and have AIDS means they must live in a $500 house. Cardboard and plastic house can cost $500!
To comment on Wintermane: If you were poor, would you like to live in a “large home with ALOT of very small bedrooms and a common set of bathrooms and kitchen area and a common living area”? This may be a very naïve approach!
To comment on Robs post: Well done Rob, you are accurate! Our costs are based on single units and once we can produce these units on an assembly line, costs can be cut most dramatically. I do believe n’Kozi Homes will withstand disasters such as hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes better than any other structure due to the inherent strength of triangles and the design. The lightweight would certainly not kill you in an extreme earthquake, compared to bricks and mortar and the round shape deflects wind and since the walls and roofs are integrated, they are not prone to as much damage from hurricanes.


Posted by: Joseph Feigelson on 27 Oct 05

To comment on David Foley’s post. I do not believe that domes were “designed to leak”. Yes, many domes especially from the 70’s were prone to leaking. These “systems” based on using hubs/connectors were virtually impossible to seal as common building materials were virtually impossible to hold down over these critical areas. The result is the perception today that “domes are designed to leak”! Our system does not use hubs/connectors and so is as simple to seal as any other structure made from standard building materials. In fact we do not use sealant, merely the EIFS system (Exterior and Insulated Finishing System) In fact these homes are very simple to alter and expand and anyone with very basic woodworking skills can accomplish wonders. These structures are also friendly to recycled materials and lend themselves to DIY and personal creativity.


Posted by: Joseph Feigelson on 27 Oct 05

Joseph, thank you for helping me understand your intentions and your product better. I may be applying my standards, developed for a cold, wet, climate, to your region, which is warmer and dryer. Still, in my region, an EIFS system would never pass muster as a means of controlling leaks and moisture penetration. In my region, EIFS systems have been notoriously difficult and prone to failure. Perhaps in South Africa conditions are different enough for this to work. Where I live, a system of redundant, lapped materials, such as shingles, work much better.

From a distance, it appears difficult to alter or expand these homes, due to their puzzling geometry. You may wish to consider a series of kits for prefabricated additions, already cut to the correct angles, and with any connectors and flashings already thought out.

It's easy to carp about someone else's efforts, and I should salute you for the efforts you're making to offer a solution. What you have at this point is a prototype. I'm sure it will improve with thought and experience. Best of luck with your efforts.


Posted by: David Foley on 27 Oct 05

What about the Icosa Pod ($600) or the Global Village Shelter ($370) --- with the right materials I bet it can rival the n'kozi home. We are working with Buckys daughter at the moment in the gulf states and our scope of costs for transitional housing is half this... and thats in the states!

Cheers,
Cameron


Posted by: Cameron Sinclair on 27 Oct 05

Check out the Barefoot College for perhaps the most interesting hybrid of traditional construction and geodesic domes.. the presentation at Pop!Tech was fantastic.

As for hard costs a permanent structure should def. be in the $4K-9K range with far more services than n'kozi is doing. If they do 100 I bet the cost will come down...

C.


Posted by: cameron Sinclair on 27 Oct 05

Actauly alot of people have lived in such a home joseph its called a dorm room.

It was also rather common back in the day. You would have 30-40 people in a home. Heck even right now alot of people IN AMERICA save money by cramming 15 people into one home by cramming those who get along into sectioned bedrooms.

You all talk about high density housing being better but then when faced with the poor you go single family and wasteful? Why? The people who need the energy and resource savings the most are the very poor arnt they?


Posted by: wintermane on 27 Oct 05

Comment on David Foley’s Post:
Thank you for your interest and participation David. Yes, I agree with you in that a system of redundant lapped materials such as shingles or for that matter thatching works much better as moisture proofing. Needless to say, the cladding of the structures is for that matter purely academic and it would make most sense to use local cost-effective materials. For example in SA we have no cedar resources to produce shingles, we can recycle milk/juice cartons into shingles, (One carton flattened has two layers waterproofed on each side) or any abundant material that could be fashioned into performing as a shingle. eg flattened cans.
Although the geometry looks puzzling, the fact is they are by far the simplest structures to build and conceive. (Probably seems complicated due to our lateral thinking indoctrinated processes). Nothing is simpler or stronger than an equilateral triangle and the fact that the basic structure is composed of 15 triangles and therefore uses 45 identical pieces- very simple. Our add-ons are also precut, color coded and numbered etc. No cutting is required on site.
You are right, at his point we have several prototypes. (Watch our website for updates coming soon with many pics). Our present focus lies with the integrated delivery of a world’s first Sustainable Smart Modern African Digital Eco-Village (SMADEV) where n’Kozi structures would serve as a backbone for enabling technologies in clean and renewable energies such as solar heating, photovoltaics, biogas, zinc air fuel cells etc, clean water, waterless sanitation solutions, ICT infrastructure and planned community centers that incorporate community organic gardens, permaculture and indoor Kitchen Gardens. (www.kitchengarden.co.za ) Thanks for your participation and encouragement!
The next horizon encompasses the production of hemp for building materials while providing incomes in rural areas.


Posted by: Joseph Feigelson on 28 Oct 05

Comment on David Foley’s Post:
Thank you for your interest and participation David. Yes, I agree with you in that a system of redundant lapped materials such as shingles or for that matter thatching works much better as moisture proofing. Needless to say, the cladding of the structures is for that matter purely academic and it would make most sense to use local cost-effective materials. For example in SA we have no cedar resources to produce shingles, we can recycle milk/juice cartons into shingles, (One carton flattened has two layers waterproofed on each side) or any abundant material that could be fashioned into performing as a shingle. eg flattened cans.
Although the geometry looks puzzling, the fact is they are by far the simplest structures to build and conceive. (Probably seems complicated due to our lateral thinking indoctrinated processes). Nothing is simpler or stronger than an equilateral triangle and the fact that the basic structure is composed of 15 triangles and therefore uses 45 identical pieces- very simple. Our add-ons are also precut, color coded and numbered etc. No cutting is required on site.
You are right, at his point we have several prototypes. (Watch our website for updates coming soon with many pics). Our present focus lies with the integrated delivery of a world’s first Sustainable Smart Modern African Digital Eco-Village (SMADEV) where n’Kozi structures would serve as a backbone for enabling technologies in clean and renewable energies such as solar heating, photovoltaics, biogas, zinc air fuel cells etc, clean water, waterless sanitation solutions, ICT infrastructure and planned community centers that incorporate community organic gardens, permaculture and indoor Kitchen Gardens. (www.kitchengarden.co.za ) Thanks for your participation and encouragement!
The next horizon encompasses the production of hemp for building materials while providing incomes in rural areas.


Posted by: Joseph Feigelson on 28 Oct 05

Joseph, thanks for clarifying aspects of your project. I admit I was too quick with some of my thougths because I don't really know the situation and context in SA.
I just thought: there have been countless of this kind of projects (check out the database on ultra low cost housing projects, since 1985, at the Building Social Housing Foundation: http://www.bshf.org/en/to.php/about/dih/ mentioning the World Habitat Award projects for the past 20 years in that category).
This one just seemed not that exceptional and on the expensive side. But I'm sure your project will evolve. The good thing is: your project exists and there's a market for it, no doubt.

I just had one question though: have you done some kind of participatory market research, or some "bottom-up" questioning? Often, the poor in question are brilliant architects. If you drop them $500 worth of building materials, they make great things. A Bucky is often a top-down thing coming from outside.

President Lula has just decided a while ago to legalize hundreds of thousands of illegal squatter homes, and has launched a project where these houses are being "upgraded" - starting from what's already there. Often, there's no need to build entirely new structures.

Anyway, these are just some pointers. Good luck with your project, there's no doubt your intentions are great. Thanks.


Posted by: Lorenzo on 28 Oct 05

Comment on Cameron Sinclair’s post;

Thank you Cameron, I visited their websites and these are great concepts and products I had previously envisioned and I am pleased someone is doing them. Ideal for an infinite amount of applications and not really comparable to our timber or steel framed UBC (Uniform Building Code) approved structures designed to be built in areas requiring building permits as well. Our structures are designed to conform to United States Building Code and Regulations which are the same codes adopted in South Africa and by the Timber Manufacturer Associations. (Imagine the expenses and hoops we had to jump through in regards to testing, professional engineering and analysis as well professional architectural fees to bring our product to market.) I do not really see our product as transitional, although somewhat portable, but rather as a permanent structure that can be expanded or modified to meet the needs of the occupants.
What a pleasure to be working with Bucky’s daughter. I had the good fortune to spend a week with Bucky and his grandson at the Hyatt in San Francisco during the 70’s.
Please do tell more about the Pop!Tech presentation or a link. Could not find anything on the Barefoot College hybrid. Please be careful when comparing costs between the different products, remember our quoted prices include all the labor components unless a kit is specified, so it would be an unfair comparison to compare the cost of a temporary type of kit to a completely built deliverable! With time and mass production, the introduction of natural fiber building materials such as hemp will dramatically reduce prices.


Posted by: Joseph Feigelson on 29 Oct 05

Comment on David Foley’s Post:
Thank you for your interest and participation David. Yes, I agree with you in that a system of redundant lapped materials such as shingles or for that matter thatching works much better as moisture proofing. Needless to say, the cladding of the structures is for that matter purely academic and it would make most sense to use local cost-effective materials. For example in SA we have no cedar resources to produce shingles, we can recycle milk/juice cartons into shingles, (One carton flattened has two layers waterproofed on each side) or any abundant material that could be fashioned into performing as a shingle. eg flattened cans.
Although the geometry looks puzzling, the fact is they are by far the simplest structures to build and conceive. (Probably seems complicated due to our lateral thinking indoctrinated processes). Nothing is simpler or stronger than an equilateral triangle and the fact that the basic structure is composed of 15 triangles and therefore uses 45 identical pieces- very simple. Our add-ons are also precut, color coded and numbered etc. No cutting is required on site.
You are right, at his point we have several prototypes. (Watch our website for updates coming soon with many pics). Our present focus lies with the integrated delivery of a world’s first Sustainable Smart Modern African Digital Eco-Village (SMADEV) where n’Kozi structures would serve as a backbone for enabling technologies in clean and renewable energies such as solar heating, photovoltaics, biogas, zinc air fuel cells etc, clean water, waterless sanitation solutions, ICT infrastructure and planned community centers that incorporate community organic gardens, permaculture and indoor Kitchen Gardens. (www.kitchengarden.co.za ) Thanks for your participation and encouragement!
The next horizon encompasses the production of hemp for building materials while providing incomes in rural areas.


Posted by: Joseph Feigelson on 29 Oct 05

Hi Wintermane
Yes, I too have lived under such conditions, call them dorm rooms, hostels whatever. These types of housing were also built for male mine workers during the apartheid regime in South Africa. I do not think anyone would like to see a resurgence of this type of housing as cramming caused a lot of violence and social issues.
Yes, in some ways single family housing is wasteful, which is why I have proposed creating a SMADEV, sustainable, smart, modern African digital eco- village, this would serve as a blueprint for future housing developments into the 21st century by demonstrating sustainable and affordable living concepts. Check the links further up ro reads more about this.


Posted by: Joseph Feigelson on 29 Oct 05

Hi Lorenzo
Thanks for the great link. We had a wonderful opportunity to capture market reaction at an exhibition in Cape Town called Design for Living in 2004. We erected a structure in the exhibition hall within 5 days and had exposure to 50-70,000 people. Needless to say the most important criteria for any new product is market acceptance and the response across the entire spectrum was extremely positive and enthusiastic.
Pardon my ignorance but who is Preisent Lula and what country are you referring to?
Thanks for your comments and interest, it is much appreciated.


Posted by: Joseph Feigelson on 29 Oct 05

Im just suggesting if you wana hit an even bigger market over there you might wana think about small duplex/quadplex/octplex dome structures.

A 1600 sq foot dome sliced into 4 homes would be very nice for those looking for a first home.


Posted by: wintermane on 30 Oct 05

HI Wintermane
All good ideas and hopefully we will get to that point. Just trying to work with the KISS principle, just getting it started through something simple and then build on the sucesses.
Much thanks.


Posted by: Joseph Feigelson on 30 Oct 05

I have always been interested in simple structures. I also notice that my own bright ideas only seem to work for me in my own cold wet dark little part of the planet. When I visited various parts of very poor Africa, I noticed many many examples of highly inventive uses of what I would call junk and trash. So--

How about a design contest? ( always like contests)- Just get a lot of what is locally available, put it in a pile, fund some local people with food and shelter for an appropriate time, and offer a relatively big prize for the best design. And cut "em loose on the pile of stuff. Step out of the way and watch what happens.


Posted by: wimbi on 30 Oct 05

Hi Wimbi
An amazing post, and a great idea that would would serve as a platform for much creative design. Obviously the idea is one thing and implementing it is another. Funding is the accelerant to make it happen!!


Posted by: Joseph Feigelson on 30 Oct 05

New guy, great site, interesting points of view.

I was interested in the article about sustainable housing, but I have to comment that several posts indicate the authors have little idea of SA facts. (I live here).

As a South African I find some comments offensive, especially as they are clearly not made with the benefit of actual knowledge.

There are government programs for low income housing, taking different forms. refer http://www.housing.gov.za/Content/Subsidy%20Information/Subsidies%20Home.htm

There is no conceivable way that average SA construction cost is R4000 ($633) per sqm. That would get you a upper middle class home. You can build (excl land cost) a basic brick & mortar home for around $300 per sqm very easily. That would be to high standards & specifications, nothing like informal housing standards.

Cape Town is not the thatch export capital and this cannot be the reason for alleged high thatch prices. Thatch grass does not grow in that region in any harvestable volume and I'm not aware that we even export large quantities of thatch. It is not a logistically viable commodity given its value/weight ratio...

Overall some of the comments depict the type of well-intentioned but poorly executed programs that NGO and donor bodies often fall prey to. Some academic or schemester puts together a powerpoint presentation, does the rounds with funders in Europe / Japan, then gets a grant to go and do good in Africa. Those funds could be far better and more appropriately delivered by local organizations and even directly by local communities.

How many of these affordable/social housing programs going back 20 years and even more have ever actually managed to be mass-deployed????

I appreciate that most people involved are well-intentioned, but maybe the countries involved could rather dismantle their trade-distorting tariffs and subsidies, thereby letting natural market forces create jobs in SA and rest of Africa. It is commercially impossible for SA farmers to compete with EU/US/Japanese farmers that receive cash subsidies to "reduce" their costs, on top of import tariff protection to inflate the price of competition.

A house is of no or little value if you do not have a job with which to earn a wage so that you can afford to stay in it!!!!


Posted by: JohanB on 1 Nov 05

Comments for JohnanB
What comments could you possibly find offensive?
I cannot understand your opinion where you seem to think an average price of R4000/sqm, (last published average price was R3,850/sqm according to the DOH (Dept of Housing) I don’t know where you live but I imagine in Bloemfontein one can build an upper middle class style home for R4000/m2, Camps Bay is presently at R12,500/m2 so I guess R4000 is an accurate “Average” The R300/sqm houses have been built (many years ago)in rural areas where minimum labour wages were not adhered to. Given the high rate of unemployment, especially in rural areas, people are willing to work for way under the minimum wages, hence the R300/m2 starting price which only includes the most basics, no interior finishes, plumbing or electricity…so there is a need for more careful comparisons.
If you would do your research, you would see that Cape Town is indeed the export center for thatch in SA. Most of the export thatch is grown along the south east coast and is commonly called Cape reeds. Where do you think resorts in Middle East etc would get their thatching? The unique Cape Thatching Reed (Thamnochortus insignis) grows in a small area in the Western Cape Province and is used mainly as a ceiling/bottom layer in the northern parts of South Africa. In the Western Cape complete roofs are thatched with this material. The stalks are solid and about 3 - 4mm thick.

As for the rest of your comments, I can only guess what you are on about and I do not believe that this is the appropriate forum for those comments.
Let us rather focus on delivering houses that are affordable to live in with free hot water, free lights and independent from municipal services.


Posted by: Joseph Feigelson on 2 Nov 05

Would anyone have some information to help me with my situation which is that I am a single mother with limited income, but could be given a gift of an acre of land on which to build and cannot afford to. How and what can I build for a very low price? An eco-friendly, solar powered home would be nice, too. I don't know much about building and costs, but it would be great to move from our current location. Thank you!


Posted by: Kate Alexander on 2 Nov 05



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