“There are more people in the world living in houses built of mud, than in any other type of material, combined,” says Malcolm Worby, founder of the non profit trust Homeless and Poor People’s Initiative (HAPPI).The dichotomy of mud house living sits between those sophisticated and informed urbanites aspiring to a low carbon footprint lifestyle,  and those others burdened by  poverty, who do so out of necessity. In SA, mud buildings of bygone eras provided housing to community members of varying status levels.

The sustainably-built adobe drop-in centres of Mamohau and Itekeng, each site with two buildings, came about as the result of HAPPI’s skills training projects.  Mamohau and Itekeng are two of ten drop-in centres funded by ASAP, that develops and supports community-based organisations of women providing holistic care for orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV and AIDS in South Africa.

Built in remote rural locations, these centres are constructed with adobe bricks and natural materials sourced locally by members of the communities of the Masupha and Thabaneng rural villages.  Situated about 45 km from the Eastern Cape village of Matatiele and 5 km apart from each other, the centres are close to the Lesotho border at the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains.

Founder Priscilla Higham says: “ASAP currently manages ten drop-in centres, from where the ASAP model is implemented to provide services to the children living in rural villages.”

As a sustainable building design expert, with a wealth of experience gained from completing numerous adobe building projects locally and abroad, Worby says HAPPI was founded primarily to facilitate skills training-based projects to local communities. The comprehensive programme is centred around sustainable building methods, as well as sustainable living, with education and positive upliftment at the core of each project.

Members of the local community are enabled to incorporate building design elements to cater for typical weather conditions with harsh winters and long summers. In developing the individual skills of builders and members of the community, optimum orientation of structures now form part of a building plan.

The adobe building method tried and tested by Worby in different parts of the world including in New Mexico in the US, has proven ideal when considering the natural resources that facilitate the process. Women from the local community mix together combinations of sand, clay, and water, followed by the forming of the rectangular adobe bricks, before laying them out to dry in the sun. Worby says the advantages of this building method are particularly notable in extreme climates, and, when compared with conventional brick and mortar as well as timber structures, it offers greater thermal mass qualities.

Once  building structures for the two drop-in centres were completed, they were equipped with new furniture designed in traditional style by Worby, including tables and benches made by a local carpenter. Also planned is electrical connectivity and solar panels to facilitate lighting and powering of a portable television set, laptop computers and cell phones.


*This article appears in full in the February – March 2013.