Saturday, May 14, 2011

Day: Ten

We decided that today we needed a much deserved break.  However, Shilla wanted us to check out a couple more of his projects.  So, for the first half of the day we took to the dusty roads and bumped our way along, throughout the city.

During the remainder of the day we explored the market labyrinths of street vendors in the city center followed by some restful downtime at our apartment.

Day: Nine

Another work day, another exotic mobile office location.  Today we worked from the shores of Bagamoyo, a world heritage site. 

Arriving at our destination we struggled with strongly conflicting sentiments.  We were enthralled by the centuries old architecture with evident influence from Arab, Indian, and German trade cultures, some of which can be dated back to the 14th century.

On the other hand, it was one of the most important slave trade ports of the 19th century.  The experience is especially poignant when you learn that Bagamoyo, translated from Swahili, means “lay your heart down”.  This is where a slave would see their land and their family for the last time.

Our explorations aside, we buckled down and continued to work the SEED design as well as its organizational structure.  The house design is just the tip of this social, financial, and cultural iceberg.

Fishermen preparing for a rising tide.

Remains of a slave trade hub.

Day: Eight

Our work day helped us answer a lot of important questions.  Of course, each answer left us with more questions.  We needed another gathering of the minds.  We rounded up the usual suspects: Shilla, the contractor, and Anthony and Shabbir, the insulated panel fabricator.  Our few ‘what’ questions now demanded a host of ‘how’ answers.   How does the wall connect to the foundation?  How do joints between panels connect?  How far can the roof panels span?  And the ever-looming, all-important, how much does the system cost?

Once our barrage of questions was satisfied, Anthony and Shabbir had a cross examination prepared for us.  They wanted to know what we thought of their projects built with the panel system.  We discussed the leaking roof, less-efficient design, and lack of user education.  They seemed to appreciate the feed back and thanked us for our thoughts.

We have been incredibly fortunate to have found the ideal building product being locally fabricated by people whose philosophy is aligned perfectly with ours.

The Menagerie (left to right): Shabbir, Justin, Talvy, Matt, Anthony, Gwilla, Shilla, Hunter

A fantastic end to a fantastic day.

Day: Seven

In order to analyze and put in order the information and data that we had encountered up to this point we decided to have a day of debriefing and decompression.  What better place to do both than at the beach. 

As anticipated, our work day revealed that our current design would have to change somewhat in light of the new building materials and recently discovered environmental conditions.  We took this opportunity to recalibrate SEED to ensure its efficacy and viability.

We also took this opportunity to get to know the Indian Ocean a little more intimately.

Teaching the locals new techniques.

Skill transfer complete.

Talvy being stalked at his place of work.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Day: Six

With the mini bus full of gas our travel into the densely lush vegetation began.  Two hours and and a few thousand pot holes later we arrived at the school in Mbagala.  Our interest there was a small school teacher's house constructed by a crew of unskilled workers using the same wall and roof panel system that we discovered three days prior.

The moment we set foot on the school ground we sensed an unbridled energy surging around us. Our presence escalated the energy to a wild fire commotion of hundreds of children.  Like mosquitoes to Matt's tender, lily white legs, they swarmed around us, buzzing in Swahili and staring at the small cluster of mzungu (white guys).  We engaged and entertained them; and they entertained us, but the main goal was checking out the teacher's house and the insulated panel system.  The concrete panels had been plastered over with a brilliant yellow.  A simple rectangular floor plan with a gable roof formed the space, exemplifying the fact that most of the built environment is based on assimilation.  Inside we found a sitting room and kitchen sharing a space, with two bedrooms and a bathroom.  Immediately we were made aware of the lack of comfort with in the house.  The windows were wide open, allowing the hot and humid air to fill the spaces.  The house is used in the same manner as most homes here in Dar es Salaam; opening the interior space to the outside.  This makes us feel there is a fundamental aspect which needs to be brought to every occupant with the SEED

The innovative use of materials calls for innovation in design.  In addition to this, there is an apparent need for education in use of the design.   To use the insulated paneled construction, the user must know the way in which the house functions; namely, closing the house up during the hottest times of the day and venting the house properly during the night and morning hours. Through this basic education, we feel there can be a shift in function of a house, and quality interior conditions of the space for the occupant.  

Structural concrete panel school house in Mbagala

The Teacher
Any Excuse to get out of class
Construction of a landmark

Day: Five

Our journey tomorrow will take us south west to the village of Mbagala.  In order to venture the rocky, dust clouded path we'll need a set of reliable wheels that can haul our seven person crew.

This morning Matt, Talley, Talvy, and Hunter set off to the internet cafe to make a blog post while Justin set out to acquire a vehicle.  Stepping out of the cafe back into the humid, sun drenched sidewalk a small beastly bus, flying past us, laid on the horn and locked up it's brakes skidding to a dusty stop a few yards away.  Like a south of the border bank robbery the driver rolled down the window and screamed, "Get in!".  As we stood there, frozen partly from concern and partly from utter intrigue, the dust from the tires settled and we saw Justin at the wheel.

The van is definitely a score.  We'll be renting it for the rest of the time that we're here.  It can comfortably hold fourteen people and if we start to run low on cash we can use it as a taxi to pick up a few shillings here and there.

Added horsepower.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Day: Four

We began the day with an hour tour toward the country side outside of Dar es Salaam with Shilla the contractor, Gwilla, our facilitator and mediator, and the SEED team. Although we were venturing to the edges of the city, the density of population remained. The roads shifted from paved to dirt, with the ever present foot-deep potholes, and motorcycle maniacs whipping by. We arrive to a washed out road,where Shilla told us our vehicles would no longer travel [one of the vehicles was submerged in mud up to the tire well, which we rescued using the bark of a banana tree]. Walking a kilometer along the road of farmers and small shops, we noticed everything surrounding us was edible; papaya, mango, banana, cashews, artichoke, chickens and cassava to name a few.

With a deep breath of contentment Shilla stopped in front of a planted field of potatoes, roughly measuring 30 meters by 100 meters. This is the's amazingly gorgeous...we couldn't have imagined a location more beautiful and accepting for building the cost-effective dwelling which is SEED. The foliage painted landscape will provide the perfect controlled canvas for prototyping the common man's dwelling.

Spending some time soaking in the site (literally, we were all barefoot because of the heavy mud), documenting with pictures and site sketches, Gwilla and Shilla told us what we already knew; a heavy rain was encroaching fast. We started walking back to the vehicles, when the sky opened up. A local family let us huddle under their canopy, where we stood and watched the rains dump for a solid hour. The family probably had $10 to their name, yet they offered us their freshly uprooted cassava as a snack, while the storm calmed. It was a great day.

Maisha Bora site...the first 10 SEEDS
Chizi Muzungu
Is that Lance?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Day: Three

On the recommendation of our trusted contractor and friend, Shilla, we were invited to tour the Mega Woodcraft factory. We were told this factory produced pre-fabricated wall panels, which of course, stirred great interest for us.

The factory was located deep off the paved road, meaning much of the drive would require jostling over the sometimes comically large potholes and dips that are found throughout the city. We have been told that we are in the meaty section of the rainy season in East Africa which, combined with the primitive drainage systems throughout many of the neighborhoods, creates impromptu streams that pass easily down the worn tire tracks in the road.

As we passed through the gates of the factory, it was clear this was an innovative business based on construction, technology, and thoughtful planning. Our hosts Anthony, an established engineer with factories throughout Malaysia and China, and Shabbir, a stately and well respected Tanzanian businessman, greeted us and welcomed us into their factory. The sign on the large factory door read "EPS". Talvy, like a kid reading the box of a new toy, said to himself "expanded polystyrene", gaining instant approval from Anthony who nodded knowingly to us all as we entered the doors. The factory was pristine [somewhat a rare phenomenon in Africa]. With Anthony's expert knowledge, he lead us through each stage of the production process; the potential of their product, combined with our design, solidified the importance of this meeting. The factory was producing, what is in essence, a SIPS [structural insulated wall panel] system. Layered between two sections of concrete is a board of the EPS...on top of producing the insulation, Anthony is fabricating these sandwhich wall panels! This is a welcome innovation and technology that we are planning on incorporating in the SEED design.

After the factory tour we were invited to the office building for further discussions of their product and philosophy. We learned Shabbir's only intention in building this factory was to create a building material that could be used to provide quality housing for the "common man", a dream he said he has held for over three decades. The office meeting, which we imagined would be a 30 minute overview of their product, grew to an over two hour meeting bonding the two teams together in both technology and vision. A follow-up meeting was set for later in the week to further discuss how our ideas could grow together under our common idea of affordable housing for Africa.

Cleanliness is one of many things that Antony and Shabbir won't compromise.

It's structural, it's insulated, it's fantastic!

Secret ingredient in the Expanded Polystyrene [pssst... it's unexpanded polystyrene]

Day: Two

In order to better facilitate innovation and budget we needed to know about current building methods and materials and their strengths and weaknesses. When we asked Shilla to take us to some of his current construction projects he eagerly agreed to do so.

We could see the contented pride he has for his work as he took us to each site. His beaming face revealed enthusiasm for his ability to provide quality construction. As we discussed material possibilities and ways to improve construction his careful contemplation also expressed deep interest in innovation.

Construction methods here are primitive. Power tools are rare, even non-existent. Everything is done on-site and by hand using things you might find in your grandpa's shed. Materials are raw and unrefined. Concrete and block provide structure with the occasional hand-built truss. Plaster and tile comprise most of the finishes. Gypsum board is available but not often used. Corrugated metal is the preferred choice for roofing. All in all good materials, but inefficient in many ways.

Shilla's construction experience covers a diverse range of projects.

Construction bracing and scaffolding. OSHA approved!

Day: One

Mambo vipi! We've had an amazing first, non-jet lagged day in Dar es Salaam. Within our first hour of setting foot on his native Tanzanian soil we met our partner and contractor, Shilla. Shilla is the genuine article: a man who has noble vision and a humble passion to pursue it.

Before we even had time to drop off our bags at our three week destination Shilla whisked us to his restaurant [well, it's actually a bar of class acts] to enthusiastically introduce us to
'Maisha Bora', his construction company. Maisha Bora, translated from Swahili to mean 'A Better Life', is also a concept and philosophy that Shilla wants to plant in the hearts of what he calls 'the average African man'.

In complete harmony SEED and Maisha Bora have the goal to help the average man provide for himself a sense of pride through ownership and health through uncompromising design and construction.

Discussing possibilities (left to right: Matt, Gwilla, Talvy, Justin, Shilla)

Overlooking one of Shilla's many projects in his neighborhood.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Planting SEED

Yes, our little team has arrived in Africa. We must apologize for the delay in our posts. As you might imagine, internet can be a tricky thing to come by in a third world country. However, we've found a suitable way to get connected with the digital world so posts will be coming at a much more acceptable rate.

Our Neighborhood