SO you make one property "environmentally friendly”, but it’s still a drop in the ocean, no? Well yes, unless you link it with a plan to work with your neighbours to transform a whole precinct. Then the ripples, as young architect Kevin Kimwelle argues, begin to spread further.
Kimwelle, 33, is a local architect with a difference. Born in Kenya and widely travelled in east and southern Africa, he is passionate about understanding people and cultures.
He studied architecture in Kenya and at NMMU, where he is now doing his doctorate and, at the same time, he is guiding the Port Elizabeth Alliance Franšaise Indalo project.
The alliance is the French language and culture centre in Richmond Hill and Indalo means nature in Xhosa. In the vision of the project, the alliance and, in time, the precinct will become a rayonnement, a place of radiance and influence in the quest to reduce our human footprint and make our society more sustainable.
Kimwelle and his team of seven French architectural students presented Indalo at a recent alliance gathering. The seven young Turks from the École Spéciale d'Architecture in Paris got to know of the project from an alliance intern student. They came out to join Kimwelle and "worked like crazy”, he told us, helping him to map the area, to conceptualise design options, and to present interim talks and presentations to various role-players.
Indalo was first launched in 2011 and it was geared around several significant but preliminary steps. Seven large tanks which collect a total of 7000l rainwater were installed. The water is harvested off the alliance building’s roof and also from the roof of a neighbour where excess volumes were causing damage.
All the ceilings were insulated, with Eco-insulation (brand name. Made from recycled paper and milled cellulose, this South African product prevents the escape of heat in winter and its intrusion in summer, meaning less electricity is needed for fewer fans and heaters. There was still a need for some heating, however, so they installed Eco-heaters brand name, the high efficiency, low wattage wall-fitted convection units.
They also installed low energy light bulbs and introduced a tighter regime of turning off lights, and they sourced a supplier of recycled paper for their office use. They initiated better sorting of their garbage and linked up with the proudly Port Elizabeth company, Greencycle, who now take away all their recyclable waste.
Running parallel to this the alliance has introduced the annual Green Week, as a platform for environmental innovation. It is also one of main movers behind the annual Stanley Street festival which is becoming increasingly green with the focus on good waste management, exhibition space and debate.
But then it was time for the next phase. The brief to Kimwelle and his team was "to give sustainable options to the expansion of the PE Alliance Franšaise”.
A multi-functional attic auditorium is going to be built and a key approach will be the use of waste tubes of different kinds. These tubes will be stacked together as supports, decorative partitions, shelving or exhibit walls. To source these tubes, the team restricted their collections to the alliance area (to avoid adding carbon miles). They collected used paper tubes from printing companies, and bottles from cafes and pubs.
The paper tube building method was invented by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. After the 1995 Hanshin-Awaji earthquake, he used it for the walls of relief housing and a church for disaster victims.
The draw here is that the tubes will be, without reducing the integrity of the building, much more environmentally friendly than traditional bricks and mortar. No energy will be expended producing them (except footslogging energy).
Kimwelle emphasises that although alternative materials must always be gauged for local suitability, green and functional in one part of the world may be neither in another.
As they proceed with their work, Kimwelle and the alliance team are looking for partners, who share the same ideals, to help fund it.
Kimwelle believes the architect should be "an agent of change in his community” – and Indalo appears to have the potential to express that role to the fullest. Bonne chance, Kevin, and let’s hope the ripples will spread fast and wide.