According to the UN, smart design is the only way to meet our housing needs and stay within planetary boundaries. “In the 21st century, global construction practices must innovate towards nature-based solutions for future cities,” says Anna Dyson, Director of the Centre for Ecosystems in Architecture at Yale University.


UN Environment, UN Habitat, the Yale Center for Ecosystems in Architecture and associated partners have banded together to create smart housing solutions that use sustainable materials and promise to alleviate the pressure of urbanisation – particularly in developing countries. Studies show that hundreds of millions more Africans will live in cities over the next three decades. Many of these new urban Africans, however, are likely to end up in informal settlements. Already an estimated 200 million Africans live in informal settlements—often without access to energy and sanitation.

The UN has found that the global housing sector emits almost a third of global greenhouse gas emissions and uses up to 40% of the planet’s total resources. “New approaches are clearly needed. The growing class of urban poor need access to decent housing. As the housing sector grows—and it must grow if we want an equitable world—we need to reduce its environmental impact, not raise it,” says UN Environment Acting Executive Director, Joyce Msuya.

“As urbanisation gallops forward, people around the world are tired of seeing precious natural habitats paved over with toxic, energy-intensive materials such as concrete and steel. Our research consortium with East African collaborators is devoted to advancing state-of-the-art locally produced building systems.”

The partners have created a prototype, intended to “spark ideas and debate on how future biomaterial processes can help meet the Sustainable Development Goals, Habitat III New Urban Agenda and Paris Agreement”. The 3D-printed modular structure, made from biodegradable bamboo, is on display at the UN Environment headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

“It is fitting that the pavilion is based in Kenya, as the government there has prioritised affordable housing as a key pillar of its Big Four Agenda, which aims to make the East African nation an upper middle-income country by 2030,” the UN said in a statement. Over the next five years, the Kenyan government plans to build over 500 000 affordable houses across the country to meet its growing housing demand. 

“Architecture must address the global housing challenge by integrating critically needed scientific and technical advances in energy, water, and material systems while remaining sensitive to the cultural and aesthetic aspirations of different regions,” says Deborah Berke, Dean of the Yale School of Architecture.

The prototype shows how post-agricultural waste—like bamboo, coconut, rice, soy and corn—can be turned into construction materials. It demonstrates solar energy and water systems that make homes self-sufficient and zero carbon. It highlights how micro-farming can be achieved with plant walls. All these features, and more, are integrated, monitored and managed by sensors and digital controls.

Video credit: https://www.africa-newsroom.com/press/media/smart-housing-prototype-shows-promise-in-rapidly-urbanizing-africa?lang=en?display=video


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