When you are working in London between the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008 things are going well so you might think: this is it!
When you are working for a well known Architect on a major London project with a high profile client, things may look even better.
When the client prioritizes on environmental issues, there are even cherries on the cake.
Until, believe it or not, I decided to move to Africa to work for a local, Nairobi based, architectural practice. All of the sudden things look different, very different.
The first thing you realize is that nature becomes your best friend and your worst enemy. In London I would press a button and light magically brightened up the room; I would turn a tap and water, magically once again, would come out. When in Kenya you go for a site visit for a new project the first three questions are:
- Where is the water coming from?
- Where is the electricity coming from?
- Where do you discharge the waste?
The fact that a plot is very unlikely to have water connection to the mains (and even if there is one it doesn’t mean it works anyway!), power or a sewer trunk connection nearby makes you want to watch David Copperfield on YouTube for some more magic: reality is very different and we forgot, rather, I didn’t even think of those simple three questions that are the fundamental and basic needs for living…while in London.
Strange, I know, but this transition from a ‘first’ world country (even though you wouldn’t necessarily think that anymore after the credit crunch) to a ‘third’ world country, challenges you mentally and physically in a way that awakes your ‘sleeping’ brain cells, like nothing else.
When you conceive a building in London your environmental agenda looks purely a marketing strategy, nothing else! (Of course I am generalizing here, but the intention is to provoke). When in Africa you start conceiving a building the mental shift is opposite: your starting points are the answers to those simple, yet difficult, questions.
When your main source of water is a dam which fills up by almost its entirety by the rains, and the rainy season fails like today, people die.
I am lucky as I have water tanks at my house which will compensate to the rationing of water, but what about people in the slums? They already die of TB, Malaria, HIV and with no water there will be more deaths and much quicker too. If that was not enough, as electricity is hydropower generated with water coming from the same dam, of course it does not help the situation.
Now, and only now, I can honestly say I have understood the meaning of being environmentally mindful. I can’t ‘design’ a rainy season, but I can design and build buildings that are as self sufficient as possible. Simple things like harvesting rain water and sun, wetlands, biodigesters, on residential developments will minimize the need from the dam water.
Yesterday we were celebrating the 40th anniversary of landing on the moon…don’t tell me we can’t make self sufficient buildings!
This essay was published on Boidus UK.
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