Posted on September 2, 2011
A few days ago, Ugandan Vice President Edward Ssekandi hosted materialsDIRECT representatives at his hotel suite in West Los Angeles. He boasted that Uganda was able to achieve 7% growth in their economy while the rest of the global economy has been shrinking. Under the current administration, Uganda has enjoyed stabilization of inflation, dramatic, per capita GDP growth, and a fundamental shift from agriculture to services industries as it’s primary economic driver.
materialsDIRECT’s first hand experience in Africa revealed building materials and methods not unlike what we’ve seen in South America, South East Asia, and most recently in Haiti. The local construction trade is directly based on what was taught during colonial occupation, going back hundreds of years and ending as recently as a few decades ago, as in the case for Uganda.
Buildings are primarily constructed of concrete and concrete block, with steel reinforcement, e.g., rebar within the walls and slabs. Concrete can be produced locally, with lowtech equipment; it’s easy to use; and at the time they were introduced to the colonies, cement blocks were the peak of lowcost, hightech building materials, replacing clay bricks and cut stone.
The materials changed, but the way they were used remained surprisingly unchanged. The Brits taught the world to basically stack stones, just like they did, and the Romans and Greeks did before them and the Macedonians, before them; the Persians did it, the Egyptians did it, the Babylonians did it, even the Aztecs did it: …stacked stones on top of one another to build. It makes sense, gravity holds stacked stones together, fairly well, even without mortar. Look how well Machu Picchu has fared. It’s been around since 1400AD with no mortar whatsoever.
Since the time concrete blocks were introduced into Africa, about 200 years ago, mankind has seen more technological advancement than all of human history combined: we’ve advanced from horsepower to rocket power, from the plume to the smartphone, from the handsaw to the surgical laser, from fire to batteries, etc. …and this type of advancement exists in the construction industry as well!
In Uganda and most developing countries, perimeter walls, bearing walls and even partition walls forming rooms, closets, etc., are made from masonry. Where block is not available, stone, clay brick and even adobe are mortared together for walls.
Masonry is heavy and hard which leads to several misconceptions about perceived advantages. While individual blocks are very strong, assembling them into structures presents a number of limitations… The higher you stack heavy blocks, the easier they are to topple. The world saw what happened in Haiti. Block and mortar alone have very low resistance to being pulled, shaken or twisted apart, so the hallows inside the blocks allow rebar and concrete (creating reinforced concrete) to run vertically within wall to compensate; of course, this solution eliminates the cavities where services like plumbing, electrical and IT cable should run …and, adds more weight, up high, making it yet easier to topple.
BUT, perhaps the biggest problem with masonry walls is how bad they are at keeping the heat out. Thermal resistance is expressed as “Rvalue” (the higher the Rvalue, the better the resistance.) A typical 8” (203mm) concrete block wall has an R-value of 1.11 to 1.35. Most municipalities in the US require buildings to have a minimum of R-13. Poor R-value is compounded by the high density of concrete which accumulates heat during the day and releases it at night similar to a tandoori oven.
Fortunately, breakthroughs in construction methods and materials have produced great alternates for use in Uganda’s infrastructure revolution: modular construction, dramatically enhanced energy efficiencies, alternative power sources and advanced engineering can position Uganda’s next generation of infrastructure products at the cutting edge of usability, flexibility and design.
materialsDIRECT applies innovation to accommodating unique challenges around the globe. For example, Uganda is landlocked, relying on Kenya for trade routes and seaports. Working directly with the Ugandan Interior Ministry, materialsDIRECT will manage the installation of Ugandan factories, mills and manufacturing plants to produce building materials from commodity stock, to reduce the country’s dependence on manufactured imports.
Light-gauge steel is a common and versatile material used in Western construction. It’s produced on roll-forming machines from galvanized steel roll, which can be sourced as a commodity, anywhere in the world. materialsDIRECT’s commitment is to eventually move light-gauge steel factories to within Uganda’s borders to produce what they need to build Western structures. Our solution also includes power to run the machines. Uganda’s abundant natural gas resources, applied to power generation could not only power manufacturing, but eventually become the central nodes of a new national power grid. Natural gas burns clean, and produces warm H₂O and CO₂ as byproducts. materialsDIRECT, and our energy partners, have engineered a solution for Uganda, that scrubs the exhaust and uses it in an enclosed greenhouse environment to grow vegetables …which may sound a bit off topic until we look closely at the Kyoto Protocol Treaty which provides financial rewards for countries like Uganda to do very Green things.
materialsDIRECT looks forward to helping to shape the next fifty years of economic growth in the Republic of Uganda.