Updated: May 25
A Take on Building Materials and Unpopular Alternatives.
We've all been part of group conversations where we get excited and make ambitious plans with every one contributing enthusiastically. As the date for the set plans draws near, excuses come up and what was a whole production of a travel plan becomes another lunch date to plan the next trip that won't happen. This is the same with building plans. We are so used to the same old that a meticulously planned design more often than not, gets reduced to a slightly different version of your neighbor's house. But the real culprit here, the reason we always end up with mainstream building designs, is the materials we choose.
BRICK & CONCRETE
When you're planning on building in Uganda, what comes to mind is the hundreds of cement bags and thousands of bricks you'll need. The set standard is solid thick walls, layers of finishes and a thorough paint job. Because of this, I've always enjoyed seeing the slightly different building style in Kenya with exposed exterior walls. This poses the question, "Do we need to finish?"
We are so bent on having "finished" buildings that we forget we can actually opt out of finishes. Few people would be comfortable with living in a grey house or simply one made with unconventional materials. Could it be because we're not exposed to enough knowledge of materials and how they work? As always, we are going to explore some options with you. If you must go the brick and concrete route, don't forget you can hold back on the plastering and still have a beautiful house, like the beautifully designed brick and concrete "DaB house" shown below.
A finish is the bridge between aesthetic and function. Everything that makes up a building structure is functional, so finishes make a structure more aesthetically pleasing. But what if we could beautify a functional structure without finishing?
In comparison, when we dress up for cold weather, some people wear warm clothes and don't care about looking good. That is their finish. Others will jump right into winter fashion trends, while the very special ones will daringly walk out half naked because fashion is top priority, and all we can do is watch and judge. Well, you can expect that kind of judgement when you decide not to fully "dress up" your building. But if you dare, let's get naked!
Plaster, paint, varnish and color washes are all types of building finishes we can consider. But what actually inspires us to finish our buildings the way we do? Most of us love our walls thick and solid because of privacy. This is the sole reason why we put up buildings in the first place - to create spaces for us to privately work and live. The materials we choose will naturally increase or decrease our sense of privacy.
For those who don't care much for privacy, glass is a pleasant choice for walls because it lets in lots of light. Even if you love your privacy, every floor plan has public and private spaces; Once you have identified your public areas, you can go ahead and have that entire living room wall made out of glass. When you cheat your way out of plastering, painting and brick work, you just might realize the glass was a cheaper option.
Steel framed houses are a quick way out of the concrete columns we're used to. They might be on the pricier side, but they are guaranteed to cut back on your project timeline. These are more common for residential buildings in the western world, while they are an option for commercial buildings here. They can however, also be used for extension projects like the one shown below, giving a beautiful contrast to any existing structure.
Very few of us are fans of wood as a structural material, but there are several ways we can incorporate wood into our buildings. Wood paneling is a personal favorite because you can not only finish your walls with reclaimed wood, but you can also have wooden screens to act as space dividers in place of solid brick walls.
.Wood as a structural material is a great option for public spaces and blends well into our environment. Pairing it with materials like steel and glass will add a natural but rustic aesthetic to your building. The next time you're planning on building a shed or a cabin, get creative with wood. A perfect example of greatly executed woodwork in Uganda is the Yamasen Japanese Restaurant building by Terrain Architects shown below. If you haven't visited this building yet, I suggest to head on over to Tank Hill Road, Muyenga and enjoy a coffee at the Endiro Café while marveling at the majestic structure.
Just like most, I am not too keen on having a house made out of tires or earth-filled plastic bottles, but reclaimed wood and raw materials like bamboo and straw make for great alternative finishes. In rural areas however, sustainable, build-it-yourself options should be a priority. For example the Modular Village Homes we designed for Pakwach district in Uganda. These are made out of compressed earth bricks which can be made by the villagers themselves. If you missed this article, read all about it here.
MATERIALS FOR PROOFING
You might also want ways to proof your building from sound, bugs, weather, mold, dirt, you name it! Here are some materials we can recommend.
1. SOUND PROOFING
You've heard people complain about apartment buildings with thin walls where no conversation remains private. We're here to tell you that thicker walls are not your only option. You can maintain thin walls and then add a board finish with sound proofing abilities. Gypsum boards are top on this list, and if your neighbor happens to be a band and practices every night, then you might have to stuff your finish with chip foam and layer your walls and floors with every sound proofing material you can imagine. Better yet, work harder and move to an island because this city air is for sharing!
2. BUG PROOFING
It's hard to convince locals to build with wood because the first thing that comes to mind is bugs, specifically termites. But we shouldn't shy away from using wood, as long as it is well treated. That aside, the best materials that will guarantee a bugless life are stone and concrete. Go ahead and cover your interior floors in stone! Who wouldn't love a decorative, rustic, bug-proof option?
3. WEATHER PROOFING
While concrete is totally weather proof, did you know that your house can "wear" concrete in a non-conventional way? Weather-proof paint isn't our only weather-proof option for finishes. Can we bring polished concrete floors back? Or coloured concrete walls, which might render your painter jobless but save you from applying five coats of paint.
4. DIRT PROOFING
There's nothing more unpleasant than having to repaint your building every now and then, especially if you live in a dusty area. Siding is your best friend and you can choose all the above material options and even get creative with them. The best options are those that provide multiple benefits, for example fibre-cement which is a mix of fibre, sand and cement, is not only durable, but bug proof and weather resistant. Options like stone and wood are also great for both interior and exterior. When it rains, dirt splashes all over our walls so unless you're ready to wash them every now and then, step to the siding side. Yes, that was a really bad pun to end this article but we move.
We hope this article has officially moved you out of your mental brick house. You now have no excuse to be rigid about your material choices because we have concrete evidence that you have options. Admit it, that was a better one. Wishing you a lovely new month of thinking outside the concrete box!