Sand-bag houses by MMA Architects


Design Indaba 08: Cape Town architects MMA have started work on a pilot project of ten affordable houses built using a sand-bag construction system.

Each house, being built at Freedom Park at Cape Flats on the outskirts of Cape Town, has a budget of just 65,000 Rand (£4,300/$8,600).

Work started on site yesterday (Monday) and the first house should be substantially finished by the end of the week. These photos show construction of a demonstration wall on the site using the sand-bag system that took place on Sunday.

Above: Luyanda Mpahlwa of MMA architects. Below: women from Freedom Park filling sand bags.

The houses will be donated to former shack dwellers with the first house going to the Jonkers family, who have until now been living in a single-room tin shack.

The sand-bag system, developed by a Cape Town company called Eco-Beam, allows communities to build their own homes using extremely cheap materials.

In this case, the sand comes from dunes located a few hundred metres from the construction site and the bulk of the manual labour is being carried out by women from the Freedom Park community.

The project is part of the 10x10 housing project initiated by Design Indaba, which pairs ten teams of South African architects with international designers to pioneer new affordable housing systems. See Dezeen's story from last year for more info.

MMA Architects were initially paired with London architect Will Alsop, although Alsop has not been involved in the final design of the houses.

Here's a press release from Design Indaba:


Design Indaba’s 10x10 Housing Project is pleased to announce that building has started on the designated plots in Freedom Park. Launched at last year’s Design Indaba, the 10x10 Housing Project challenged 10 architectural teams to provide innovative and dynamic design solutions for the low-cost housing sector.

Ten of the first solution will be built in this first phase of the project, thanks to sponsorship from PG Bison and Pennypinchers. Future constructions involving the other nine designs are envisioned.

Said Justin Berry, group marketing manager of PG Bison: “As a leader in the South Africa’s building industry, PG Bison is proud to be part of a project that proposes a meaningful solution to the housing problem in South Africa.”

The solution to be implemented is the entry from architect Luyanda Mpahlwa, assisted by Kirsty Ronné. Using an innovative new building system, Ecobeams, which complies with all the rules and regulations of the Cape City Council, fits within budget and fulfils all the requirements with regards to testing and certification of an alternative building system.

"To be part of this project meant a lot in terms of making a significant contribution towards innovative, dignified solutions to the housing situation. I'm looking forward to seeing the final construction," said Mpahlwa.
The design also offers a number of improvements on the standard RDP house. Ecobeams are equal, if not superior, to brick-and-mortar, but cheaper and more eco-friendly.

Taking this into account Mpahlwa has increased the size of the house and created a fluid interplay between public and private spaces in and around the house. The house is also built on a framework, making it easy to expand, and involves the whole community in its construction.

The design, and those of the other architects from around the world will be distributed as architectural open source. “All of these designs will bring new materials and concepts to low-cost housing, and will be an absolute boon to poor families across Africa,” said Ravi Naidoo, founder of Design Indaba and director of Interactive Africa.

The participating architectural teams are: Jo Noero (Cape Town) and Cameron Sinclair (San Francisco); Vanessa September (Cape Town) and Lindy Roy (New York); Luyanda Mpahlwa (Cape Town) and Will Alsop (London); Andrew Makin and Janina Masojada (Durban), and Christoph Egret (London); Lesley Carstens and Silvio Rech (Johannesburg), and Thomas Heatherwick (London); Stefan Antoni (Cape Town) and Eva Jiricna (London); Ruben Reddy (Durban) and Mark Dytham (Tokyo); Martin Kruger (Cape Town) and David Adjaye (London); Henning Rasmus (Johannesburg) and Shigeru Ban (Tokyo); and Don Albert (Cape Town) and Tom Dixon (London).

Posted on Tuesday February 26th 2008 at 3:07 am by . Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • James

    Terrible. Makes me ashamed to be South African

  • K. Rimane

    At james…. is that prejudice or blunt racism? I’m not South African but I don’t mind if you’re ashamed to be one. That’s your problem.
    I think it’s a good initiative. Let’s first wait and see the result before shaming ourselves uselessly.

  • Dennis

    Given the affordability of housing within a 3rd world developing economy this is very good.

    Compared to the junk they dish out under the banner of RDP-Housing this is amazing stuff.

    We are talking about housing for folk used to living in zinc huts(makoekoes) and with a very low per-capita income.

    Well done to the architects and sponsors.

  • SeBo

    I really appreciate the spirit and affordability of those houses.

  • James

    Fantastic, proper architecture doing some good… none of this detached “iconic” form rubbish.

  • Woolzerinoos

    Great idea, making use of abundant resourses I presume. By the way James, if you stay on top the fence your likely to fall off at somestage.

  • I would like to get info on ecobeams where can i find them in the usa, or specks on how to bild them.

  • Donna Valbuena

    I too would like information on building a sandbag house in Florida. Is anyone building them here yet? Can they be made hurricane “proof”?

  • aneesa

    the company is called ecobeam very informative.
    built my house that way,wonderful system

  • makhosazana mngomezulu

    My oh my, what happens when we think big and outside the box. Creative and environmentally conscious responses are what we should be encouraging and participating in. Well done to the team and sponsors who were part of this beaming idea.

  • Scot Gossard

    For more interesting information, research cob houses. In the British Isles they have lasted for hundreds of years.

    Also, sand houses were experimented with near Jacksonville, Florida, USA about 50 years ago. I suspect the building industry had something to do with their lack of popularity.

  • I really like your site. Good job.

  • Sally

    Terrible! .. James,

    Everyone to there own, but are’nt we all beyound the respnse ‘Terrible’ for any Architectural/Design venture especiallyof this magnitude!

    My response Wow, outstanding, all in great taste, what a chance for those working on the project and for those living in the project.

    Imagine living in a one bedroom schack (shanty), because no-one had had the idea and courage!

    -Austrian (X – S.A)

  • Cazola

    Extremely cool, as far as I’m concerned, and I look forward to building my own home this way – and training others to do the same. Google “natural building” for LOADS of info worldwide on bag and post building, cobbing, adobe etc.
    Green building is the way to go!

  • I have started my own project. I am making mine a clay bag building. The clay is slightly damp when placed in the sandbag and then shapped as needed. I use an earth hand compacting tool and a 2 X 4 to get the desired shape. Each day, I make as many bags as I can and then stack them up to place them into the pattern later. Once I get the shape set and all the bags in place. I plan to cover the entire structure with either shotcrete or concrete plaster. I don’t think I can post pictures here, but I have some nice shots. I am the author of the recent Paradise Series from which I got my idea as I was writing about Eastern Indians migrating from the east coast and building houses where there were no trees. Dr Robert E McGinnis

  • Hi , we are the manufactures and suppliers of the sandbag method to local and international markets based in Johannesburg South Africa. Please visit our web page for contact details and any information you may require.