Sand-bag houses by MMA Architects 3


Design Indaba 08: continuing our series of stories about the 10x10 Housing Project in Cape Town, South Africa, here are the latest photos showing progress constructing the first sand-bag house.

Designed by MMA Architects, the house is the first of 100 experimental, low-cost homes for former shack dwellers that will be built at Freedom Park on the outskirts of Cape Town.

Work started on the houses last Monday and these photos were taken last Wednesday and Thursday, when local children joined in to help fill sand bags.

See our earlier story for plans of the houses and an explanation of the sand-bag construction method, and photos of the first day's work here.

"The bags have now all been packed in for the bottom floor, and the shuttering was made right on the top for the concrete ringbeam, which was cast on Friday," says project manager Nadya Glawe.

"Next week we'll start plastering the bottom level to give support, before putting up the timber frame on the top level and packing bags again."

The houses each have a budget of 65,000 Rand (£4,300/$8,600).

Posted on Sunday March 2nd 2008 at 11:41 pm by . Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • francois

    this is not architecture.

    i find this boring and childish, especially after posting the same article for a third time.

  • Ewan

    an open response to francois and others.

    the definition of unabridged is as follows.

    the profession of designing buildings, open areas, communities, and other artificial constructions and environments, usually with some regard to aesthetic effect. Architecture often includes design or selection of furnishings and decorations, supervision of construction work, and the examination, restoration, or remodeling of existing buildings.

    Please note that the word communities figures more prodominently than the word aesthetic. I believe that it is people that hold the same shallow beliefs that you apparently vocate that are dilluting architecture as a proffession. Sensationalism and the shock of the new do not single handedly create “good” architecture. It is undeniable that aesthetic can be an important factor in design, however consideration for users, typologies, space and context are more significant in producing what the architectural body calls “appropriateness”. Perhaps you should put some more time into thinking and comment on architectural merit and not solely on your own entertainment. Allow me to suggest that you consult the following resources for some bedtime reading:

    good work dezeen. I believe this is architecture…and more importantly it is not just any architecture, but it is one which we should all take a leaf from. cheers for the great e-zine.

  • kur0yi

    i’d say this IS architecture.

    i find this necessary and constructive, offside numb formalistic design. then again, what is true is: you could have made 1 or 2 posts out of it, not 3.. or maybe 4, once its finished, since we are still missing a part.

    and i am somewhat shocked: i didnt think a sandbag house would get so much attention. its the most normal thing to build if you lack other ressources, or its localy available and cheaper. i thought it would happen all the time and not be a big thing.

  • Richard

    Well, some of us like to see the evolution process of a product.

  • Tue


    It must be comforting to know exactly what is architecture, and what is not.
    Being a professional in the business of architecture, i allow myself the luxury to constantly investigate that border between what is architecture, and what Francois says “is not”.

    I find this project very interesting, as i find Shigeru Bans Paper log houses:
    and similar projects.
    To many architects spend their lives designing objects for people, that really have enough well-designed space. I would love to work on a project like 10×10, i’m just not sure if i’m skilled enough.

  • STrab

    Yes, I totally agree with those who say that THIS IS ARCHITECTURE!!!
    Good job, Marcus.


    oh francois if anything your reply was simply boring, childish, and had no relevance to the subject.

  • M

    whether this is architecture or not I think we all (minus one) know,
    the real question is, is this any different, or better, then similarly done projects in similar contexts?

  • Noviardi

    I Think there was similar project like this, check tha Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2004 for Sand Bag Shelter.
    But This Project is in difirent contexts,..

  • roadkill

    SPAM!!!!!! feck can’t you post only once rather than having this post re-occurring weekly?

  • unpopular

    i find the opening statement interesting purely for the fact that it has illicited many very strong responses.

    i have to add that possibly what irritated people most about the statement is not what it contained, but the fact that it was directed at a building that is inteded to uplift the poor. Social architecture seems to be a bit a of a holy cow these days…

  • zuy

    “united bootle ” is it architecture but bottle is packaging design…so is it
    packaging house?is this architecture large packaging for human?
    for me it’s design for help

  • Daniel Hoyt

    As a student studying architecture I find this article very interesting as it possess the question of what is or isn’t architecture. Personally I think this quote said by Cameron Sinclair is most similar to my philosophy of architecture, “If you strip away all the ego in architecture … all we do is provide shelter. And if you can’t do that, you can’t call yourself an architect.” It is one thing to have the credentials of designing a beautiful new museum or sky scraper, but having the ability to change how people live creating a powerful statement in social architecture is so much powerful than the star-architect.

  • thuba

    Innovative but not good for cape town conditions in that they are hot and stuffy iside would like to see them .

  • Mr.Blair J.Rowe

    I like it !!

  • Paul

    Architecture? Hmmm. I guess – but it doesn´t LOOK LIKE serious architecture, to me.

    Don´t get me wrong, I don´t mean to badmouth the project. If it puts people into reasonably decent housing, cheaply, and efficiently, then kudos to everyone involved.

    But, wouldn´t brick be a whole lot better? I don´t mean commercially baked brick, like we see in the US, and Europe. That would cost a lot, because we waste so much energy.

    History taught me that the Egyptians made brick long before the Euros bothered to record history. Without googling, I believe the ingredients were nothing more than clay, straw, water, and sun.

    A sandbag is going to deteriorate quite rapidly, in comparison to a brick. Even a poorly formed, and inadequately baked brick has more substance and durability than a bag of sand, I would think.

    Sand DOES have a beneficial characteristic – that of being a good insulation, after it is dry. So – how about a double walled brick building, with the hollow between the brick walls filled with sand? Kinda like a thick stucco or adobe, huh?

    In reality, I have to reserve judgement. When hundreds and thousands of these sandbag buildings are finished, THEN I want to hear what the residents think of them. Hot? Stuffy? Decaying, after only a year or six? Hard to heat/cool? Hard to keep clean? (let us not forget that the hollow spaces in the sand can harbor pests, unless the sheathing is sealed properly)

    Keep us posted. ;)

  • David Russell


    you must understand that the typical South African’ shack is simply a tin shed, constructed using corrugated sheeting on cruedly erected timber framework. Floors are usually just the ground on which teh shack is placed, or may have loose laid flooring (timber, plastic lids etc). Insulation, if any, is often one or two layers of cardboard boxes. Residents cannot afford anything more, and more than often ‘find’ the materials before having to buy them. It really is a recycling culture we have in South African townships.

    Heating on the other hand is provided by liquid paraffin. As you can imagine, winter is unbearable at best, where temperatures can drop to minus 10 celsius or less. And the baking summer heat doesn’t make summer any more pleasant.

    So the problems you raise are already present.

    What the sand bag method of construction promotes is the idea that a dwelling can be constructed quite quickly, with little skill or resources. The cost above is still well beyond the reach of your typical shack dweller, so this would be deemed too expensive. However, the SA governement’s initial ideas – I’m going back 10 years now – was to provide low cost housing to it’s disadvantaged citizens. This has not been entirely successful, as these citizens amount to millions of people. If I’m not mistaken, they wanted to be able to provide housing that could be completed with all services for much less than R65,000 back then, and these were to be subsidised depending on income levels of the future home owners.

    As I say, teh vast mojority cannot afford this, so this is an experiment into what teh government are able to provide its millions of disadvantaged people.

    This house will provide a much superior shelter, will be more insulated, and more stable. For people who really do have nothing, a project like this changes their life a lot more than Westerners would intially imagine.

    On the flip side though, improvement in typologies are necessary. D H Kay in another post ( refers to this, and I’m surprised to see no development of the ideas he states, that were part of the submissions back when I was studying in SA in the early nineties – shared walls/services, higher density et al.

    To see projects like this undetaken in truly rural societies is promising, but, I would like to see these ideas developed. SA, as I’m sure other countries in similar situations have discovered, has been subjected to a number of proposals and experiments like this, yet these seem to stop once the build is complete…

    As far as social architecture is concerned, this is wonderful work.

  • Stex

    This is ok, but real sandbag buildings are better as they are much stronger and use classic forms, domes, arches, vaults and conical towers. Almost no wood or forms or complex bondbeams or roofing trusses etc. Sand mix needs to be moistened and have enough clay to set hard, bags need to be covered but are permenent when that is done with adobe, stucco, tile, stone or sod. Bags can be laid in footings without forms, then one bag course above finished grade to make ring for pouring finished floor slab ! pioneered this long ago, and its used worldwide.
    folks still cling to old box structures though instead of earth homes, and closer connection to nature. Earth homes allow for full natural integrations with water features, covered with landscaping, and organic gardening in green oases now, not just austere tract structures or shanty towns.

    See also, for photos
    of examples adn evolutions of this. plus hundreds of related links.

    Mass produced homes are now possible using heavy equipment to make sandbags right in place even. See also
    Just add tamping team, barwire for mortar, and form team for windows and doors, voila ! a fine house in a couple days!

    No more shanty town fires ! No more rip off mortgages !

    God Bless

  • HarrisonEmbrey

    I’ll leave others to navel gaze but I do agree with those that are frustrated when a sensible solution fails to make it to the mainstream whatever its level of technical, design sophistication. Perhaps global financial meltdown will be the next revolution, when joined up thinking and sustainability meet the real world.

  • xinn z.

    hi there… I’m just a kid here in Philippines… i knew this sandbag house project by means of a documentary video here. and i find it as an alternative solution for those who aren’t have lots of money in building their house. i can’t recall the name of the person who also adopt this project here but i believe in him that ” its better to have a shelter than nothing at all.” and on his project of school made of sandbag which is dome shape with hole ventilation and artistic design… i agree that it is an architect work… good job Marcus…

  • John

    I find this type of construction very interesting (sandbag, straw bail, cord wood, ramed earth tires…). I wonder how long it will be until I see a Lego house. The issues I have found are finding a place to obtain experience with with these, especially on the east coast, and lack of integrating these academically whether it be design or construction. I’m not sure what it is about people and culture that the majority always need to hang onto something that is obviously becoming more of a liability than efficient, it is the few that are willing to except an alternative direction and decades for it to become excepted, in this case balloon/stick construction. As material resources become strained (wood), replacement materials seem to do more harm than their benefit provides (from the individuals occupying to those constructing to the environment), and the fragility of “traditional” houses to weather (the original bail out by the way when every minor storm becomes a “disaster area” to funnel FEMA money in) these techniques should now be given serious consideration by academic institutions, designers, builders and code organization’s.

  • this is not architecture it is low cost housing it does not inspire beauty in any way and 65 000 rand is still not cheap enough, as these people live on less then 10 rand a day

  • Dear MMA Architect

    I like your building specially the structual system very much.
    Great job.
    Thanks for building green.
    Nabil Taha, Structural Engineer, USA.

  • Ingon Mongkolwisut

    This good idea for house after flood disaster in Thailand. Cause now we've left a lot of sand bag.

  • I would like to know what is the advantage of using sandbags in this context?

  • Jacky

    An article of sand bag homes rotting and collapsing – having to be demolished: