How Simple Earth Blocks Could Revolutionize Construction for the African Island of Pemba

How Simple Earth Blocks Could Revolutionize Construction for the African Island of Pemba

Pemba, a small Tanzanian island off of Africa's Eastern coast, is undergoing something of a construction boom. With half of the population aged under 30 and a culture in which a man must build a house before he can get married, a wave of new informal housing is sweeping the island. Historically, construction methods used by the islanders have been problematic: traditional wattle & daub construction typically survives for just 5-7 years; its replacement, bricks made of coral, not only require large amounts of energy to extract but have a devastating effect on the environment; and modern cement bricks most be imported at high costs.

Sensing an opportunity to help the islanders at a critical time in their development, Canadian NGO Community Forests International is promoting a solution that combines the economy and sustainability of wattle & daub with the durability of masonry: Interlocking Stabilized Compressed Earth Blocks (ISCEBs). Find out how this simple technology can help the island community after the break.

Earth Block Pile. These are experimental blocks using a fine coral agregate that is the by-product of coral block extraction on the island.. Image © Zach Melanson

Made by packing a hand-operated machine with clay, sand and some lime for stabilization, the compressed earth blocks offer a faster and more durable construction than traditional earth construction methods, with none of the drawbacks encountered by the more recent masonry counterparts. In addition, the machine used offers the option to insert hollow channels in the blocks, creating ventilation bricks which can improve the living conditions within new buildings.

Local block maker Ali Cedric (left) packs the earth block press. Image © Craig Norris

The initiative by Community Forests International aims to provide machines to the island and training for 100 women and farmers to use the equipment. It's part of a comprehensive campaign to revolutionize life on Pemba, which aims to plant trees, provide solar and wind power, invest in farming and beekeeping, and much more - all through community-led initiatives which prioritize training to invest in the people of the island.

A common building material on the island, coral blocks are carved in ecologically destructive open-pit quarries.. Image © Zach Melanson

To aid them in their goals, both in providing compressed earth blocks and all their other projects, Community Forests International is currently running an Indiegogo campaign. You can donate here, or follow their blog or facebook page for more information.

About this author
Cite: Rory Stott. "How Simple Earth Blocks Could Revolutionize Construction for the African Island of Pemba" 31 Dec 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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