The other day, I watched this video by one historian named Vaclav Smil and it made me think about our construction practices in Malawi.
What is the most used material in Malawi, or indeed most parts of Africa? If it’s not brick – the same reddish-brown blocks that are made by this labour intensive, environmentally taxing process involving burning the mud bricks with firewood in a mud kiln – then my guess is it either is firewood, or failing that mortar? I don’t know for sure – as I said, it’s a guess.
But with a growing African population, it makes sense as far as environmental conservation, ‘being green’ and living within the limits of your resources go, to look for alternatives which are eco-friendly or at least less taxing on the environment.
And this I believe is a question of our time in that what material(s) can take over, or have what it takes to take over from brick and mortal?
Advocates of green living point to all sorts of products that they hail as the next big thing (or at least better than brick and mortar), and it’s anyone’s guess which of these materials genuinely are as practical and affordable as bricks and mortar tend to be, especially for a poor country.
A few years back I encountered this brick made from composite and recycled materials including wooden chips and ‘cementius materials’ – the MaqCrete
Then, I thought it still uses cement, so doesn’t divorce itself entirely from mortar. The question is does it use less cement than bricks and mortar – when you would still need cement to hold the blocks together and create a structure?
Although the owners says no energy is used – without clearly explaining how it is made, it leaves the question of how much energy in practical terms is expended in creating these blocks, and how such amount of energy compares with the amount of energy required to produce an ordinary brick? Similarly, how does the carbon footprint compare with that of mud bricks? And finally could such a block be made with relative easy in a country such as Malawi?