BUILDING RESEARCH

(Based on an article by Harald Kristiansen of the Norwegian Institute for Building Research in the Norwegian magazine ‘NORKONTAKT’)

The objective of building research in any country in the world is to facilitate the development of a ‘Building Industry’, in the broadest sense of the word. This includes the production of building materials and components, research into methods of work, tools and equipment, structures and techniques, as well as the erection of finished buildings. In this respect, there is no difference between industrialised and developing countries. The major difference lies, not in the aims and purposes of building research, but in the economic circumstances and political framework within which such research must take place.

In the fifty or so poorest countries in the world, a total of more than 2,000 million people enjoy a Gross National Product of less than 300 dollars per head. By comparison, Norway has a GNP of 3,130 dollars, and the USA of 5,160 dollars per head. In Tanzania, the average GNP per inhabitant is only 100 dollars, or 1/30 of that of Norway. In an attempt to raise the living standards of the majority of the population, priority is being given to the development of agriculture, education and public health and there is a conscious effort to decentralise and build-up the economy of the rural areas. All this requires improved communications, the building of schools, health centres and administrative premises, the provision of storage facilities for agricultural products and – last but not least – the provision of good houses that can be seen to be a substantial improvement on present living conditions.

Given the low level of income, such a programme clearly cannot be realised on the technological standards of the industrialised countries. At present, some 10,000 houses a year are built by paid labour, while about 600,000 are constructed by communities working on a self-help basis. The 10,000 houses are to the 1950 standard of the Norwegian Housing Bank. The 600,000 have an average life of only 6 years, being built of organic materials timber, palm leaves, grass – which rapidly succumb to decay and the depredations of termites in the hot, humid climate. The main focus of building research in Tanzania must therefore be to contribute to the creation of houses and other buildings which are more durable and conform to better standards of health; and this can only be achieved by the development of a technology based on local materials and an extension of traditional skills.

Unfortunately, foreign ‘aid’ often has, in this respect, a negative effect. Many donors insist, on prestige grounds, that the building content of aid programmes reflects the technological level of the donor country. European architects and engineers do the planning. They follow instructions, standards, norms and styles coming, for example, from Germany, Britain or the USA, which in turn leads to the importation of practically all building components. The consequent multiplicity makes it impossible to hold the necessary spares and the repair and maintenance, both of machines and buildings, is a constant headache. Such external aid has, on the other hand, few positive repercussions. This building, or that technology, cannot be copied and exerts no influence on traditional building activities.: The gap between them is too great.

These reflections may seem obvious, but they hardly begin to be considered by many European architects who do their design work, either sitting at home, or in the branch offices of their firms in developing countries. Their activities are purely of a business character and result in no diffusion of technology, their architectural style being, in any case, alien to the context in which the buildings are to be erected.

Building Materials and Components
The use of locally available raw materials for building can lead to significant savings in both money and, even more important, foreign exchange. For example, a bag of cement which at the factory in Dar-es-Salaam costs 16/- may, in the remoter parts of Tanzania, cost 35/- or even more. The greater part of the cost (oil for cement production; lorries and fuel for transport) is in foreign exchange. The substitution for cement of chalk found locally would have obvious advantages. This requires, not only a thorough knowledge of the raw materials locally available for building purposes, but also careful consideration of their use in conjunction with the traditions and manual skills available in the areas in which they are found.

Most raw materials cannot be used directly in building but require processing and/or manufacture into various components such as bricks, tiles, boards or windows. Although most such components can be produced with relatively small capital investment, considerable organisation is required, and a number of obstacles have to be overcome, before a National Plan for the development of the building materials industry can be evolved. As the level of activity in the building industry tends to fluctuate widely from year to year, it is important to establish national annual and five-yearly building programmes to ensure among other things, a more stable demand for building products. There has also to be a wholesale distribution system with buffer stocks to facilitate the planning of small or large deliveries of materials and guarantee a stable demand from producers. Finally, as the building industry is accustomed to using imported materials and components, a case may be made for deliberate restriction of imports in order to stimulate the demand for local products. Perhaps in this context the best kind of ‘aid’ is that which, in place of strings to an external market, stipulates that all building materials used in a project must be produced locally and which, where necessary, assists in the establishment of their local production.

Construction Techniques
Building activity resembles a chain. In addition to the local production of materials and components, it is also necessary to develop structures, techniques of construction, and methods of work which make good use of the materials available and are best suited to the prevailing conditions and skills. This demands not only research into foundations, floors, roof construction etc., but also the dissemination of information and the training of local craftsmen, architects and engineers. Written information in the form of ‘handouts’, although important in the longer term as a compendium of technology, is of only limited value in developing countries such as Tanzania, where the majority of ‘self-help’ builders are illiterate. Much greater use can be made of the radio. But perhaps a network of local instructors/ demonstrators is the most effective means of disseminating the message of building research. An organisation along these lines is currently being built up in Tanzania.

Before new techniques can be widely accepted, it is also necessary in many developing countries to amend or replace the existing building regulations, which are often an exact copy of those of the Colonial power. The problem is to produce guidelines that deal with the most elementary questions, such as the building of foundations, sewage disposal etc., while at the same time including the regulations necessary for larger buildings. In Tanzania, regulations are now being drafted along these lines, at three levels – the single, one-storeyed house, the two-storeyed house with more emphasis on load-bearing walls etc., and the multi-storeyed building, involving a whole series of regulations affecting hygiene, safety, security against fire risks, etc.

The Contracting Industry
Many European contractors have now ceased to operate in Tanzania, as they no longer enjoy the privileged position of Colonial times. The role of the contracting industry has, in any case, altered with the Government’s policy of decentralisation. Many small administrative, health and educational buildings spread over the whole country call for a decentralised industry which, at present, simply does not exist. There is a severe shortage, not so much of craftsmen, but of managers and supervisors capable of organising and administering small businesses. In addition, building work is casual and spasmodic; safety precautions on building sites are minimal; accidents are numerous; and there is generally no sanitation. There is clearly a need for a concerted effort to raise the status of workers in the building industry, and to organise work on a continuous and more stable basis. This can only happen within the framework of national programmes for construction. Such programmes will facilitate the analysis of the distribution, use and build-up of manpower resources and materials production within each District. They will also illuminate the need for local technology and show how, and at what cost, one can afford to build. It is only with sound economic planning that the foundation may be laid for a reduction in imports, the development of a realistic building economy and the establishment of a building industry that is locally based.

Physical Planning
Good physical planning requires architects, engineers and planners, all of whom must be in tune with local policies, values, norms, resources, social and cultural organisation and conditions. In Tanzania, those responsible for planning have, in whole or in part, a European background and/or training. A Tanzanian student trained in an industrial country will gain unusable knowledge in many areas. To expect him to undertake parallel studies leading to an understanding of values and norms more relevant to his own needs, to adapt his knowledge to use in quite different circumstances, is to make enormous demands on him. Therefore it is important for developing countries to establish their own training on a local basis as quickly as possible.

Also, the planning process itself, which is at present bound up with a system of training, professional agreements, methods of tendering and public regulations developed in a totally different context, must be adapted and improved.

Conclusion
This article has dealt briefly with a number of problems facing Tanzania in relation to the building industry and physical planning. If one poses the question of the need for research, it transpires that there is a long and varied list of questions to be looked into, such as the exploitation of local raw materials; the production of building components; the documentation of existing technology, and the evolution of a new technology based on local conditions; the development of a local contracting industry; documentation and development of the basis of planning; and, finally, the development of an apparatus for planning which is based on local policies, resources, technology and culture.

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