For the love of green architectural design

Saturday November 4 2017

Joe Slovo West Community Project

The view from inside the ‘bottle’ wall of the Joe Slovo West Community Project in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. PHOTO | COURTESY 

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The Joe Slovo West Community Project, in Joe Slovo Township, Port Elizabeth, South Africa, a green community centre, was the only architectural and green building and social project nominated for the 2017 Design Indaba’s Most Beautiful Object in South Africa (MBOISA).

The centre is praised for its high social impact and creatively tackling various layers of community needs.

“It was great being nominated for Design Indaba’s 2017 MBOISA award. And even though we didn’t win, we were the only architectural and green building nominated to a platform that is dominated by industrial, product and fashion design,” said its creator, Kenyan-born architect Kevin Kimwelle.

“The nomination highlighted social change and how green design can mitigate that. Hopefully more community or socially aware designers and architects will provide greener and socially aware community solutions,” he added.

Kimwelle, born and raised in Nairobi but now a 13-year resident of South Africa, describes himself as a community architect, and believes in recycling, the use of scrap wood, metal and bottles.

He says that in his travels to various African countries, he realised that many modern architectural developments do not uplift the communities in which they are built, focusing on profit despite the damage to the community and environment. 

Kimwelle is also behind the construction of the Masifunde Education Centre — a green education building in Gqebera (Walmer) Township in Port Elizabeth that engages and promotes creativity and the green agenda among the youth. The project construction was expected to be completed in July 2017.

“I designed the Masifunde Change Maker Academy in Gqebera Township on the periphery of the central business district and although it is more conventional, it is uses solar energy and rainwater capture and water recycling to reduce its foot print. It also relooks at the idea of education and creating spaces that are flexible and more conducive to learning,” he says. 

In 2012, Kimwelle designed the extension of the Alliance Française building in Port Elizabeth, a green project that was meant to live up to the challenge of green design in a heritage sensitive area. The project was completed in 2015.

Now, the Joe Slovo West Community Project stands as a testimony to Kimwelle’s fidelity to green design. Completed in September 2015, the multidisciplinary project was a renovation and expansion of a nursery school funded by local non-profit organisation Love Story. The organisation emphasised the involvement of local citizens rather than a foreign company to incorporate local user and environmental concerns. 

The Joe Slovo West Community Project in Port Elizabeth.

The Joe Slovo West Community Project in Port Elizabeth. Right, Architect Kevin Kimwelle. PHOTOS | COURTESY

The walls of the centre were constructed using approximately 1,500 discarded wine bottles that shimmer in the sunlight, offsetting the rustic beauty of a building made from recyclable materials — reflecting Kimwelle’s cost-effective and environmentally conscious approach to building design.

Kimwelle says they had to do a lot of collecting of recyclable materials from around the city of Port Elizabeth and involved the greater community.

“The wine bottles came from a group of restaurants located closely to each other where we collected bottles twice a week. I collected pallets from the industrial area every second week. I also collected used building materials donated from homes and building sites all over the city. Individuals, non-governmental organisations and corporations also helped in collecting the materials using their vehicles.”

He says the project was well received by the community and they have established several businesses including bottle and pallet recycling micro enterprises. “These are a part of five high social impact SMEs in the same community,” he said.

The Joe Slovo West Community Project consists of five sections: An artistically decorated crèche, which also serves as an after-hours youth centre; a special needs school and a frail care facility; a community-education centre; a “science shelter” demonstrating the various green technologies used in the project; and a provision for small business development. 

Due to budget constrains, Kimwelle told The EastAfrican that he persuaded Love Story officials and the community to accept an eighty per cent recycled design. 
The project has now secured local and international quasi-government partnerships.

The project’s success is in the development of a green footprint with a large social impact, minimum carbon, energy and water footprint and promoting local green technology that stimulates micro and macro economies in townships.

Kimwelle espouses sustainability and ethical design in his projects and believes; “Apart from it being economically more viable and affordable once the localised technology is applied, green architecture is able to recycle waste and reduce the carbon footprint by giving a second life to materials,” he told The EastAfrican.

“The social and economic benefits are even greater as green skills transfer is core to its business. Kenya recently banned plastic bags and with many other Africa countries following suit, I am sure we can take it further and develop technologies that can recycle waste instead of burying it in landfills and hoping for it to magically disappear,” Kimwelle observes.

Kimwelle was born in 1979 in the Eastleigh neighbourhood of Nairobi and attended the prestigious Starehe Boys Centre and Highway Secondary School, both in Nairobi.

He holds a certificate and diploma in architecture from the Nairobi Institute of Technology (1998 and 2001 respectively); a Bachelor of Building Arts (2006) and a Masters in Architecture (2008) from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

Since 2012, he has been pursuing a multidisciplinary PhD between Nelson Mandela University, Cape Peninsula University of Technology and Hochschule Wismar, University of Applied Sciences, in Germany under a people-centred architectural approach.

His doctoral thesis is on “Alternative design as an agent for social change in the urgency for green sustainable development praxis in Africa,” and strives to shift architecture from a commercially driven approach to one which is more community driven.