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SA Structure Wins Acclaim At African Solar Design Competition

A group of talented students from South Africa designed a zero-energy house and won acclaim in the African solar design competition.


African Solar Design | House and Leisure

The Sustainability Institute, which forms part of the University of Stellenbosch, and a team of built-environment students from around South Africa successfully completed a zero-energy house in Morocco, as part of the first Solar Decathlon Africa initiatve and were awarded second place for architectural design. 

An African solar design competition

The Solar Decathlon Africa aims to allow students from universities around the world to design, develop and build a net zero energy house for the African context.

Within the bigger picture, the competition aims to empower African communities to meet their energy and housing needs, focusing on solar enegry and green-energy efficient buildings. 

Titled House Mahali, the zero-energy structure features an innovative solar system that creates more electricity than is used in the house. The roof is angled to accomodate thin-film photovoltaic panels, which harvest rainwater as well as providing shade over the living space and outside area. 

Other features include a grey water collection system that uses water to create evaporative cooling for the structure.

The living areas are made out of a recycled shipping container, which is lined with a timber structure, and the bedrooms are completely made with timber frames. A dry toilet has been placed within the house to save additional water. 

The furniture was sourced from Ashanti, which celebrates African craft, and has upholstery made from T-shirt offcuts – yet another addition to the sustainable ethos of the house. 

ALSO READ: 3 Sustainable Materials Used To Build This Remarkable Karoo Home

African Solar Design | House and Leisure

Eighteen South African team members built the mockup of the house in Morocco, taking into account the harsh and dry conditions of the country, and features multiple sustainable features including the exterior cladding, which is made from crocheted recyclyed plastic bags.

The cladding was purchased from The Plastic Project, an organisation which supports women in Franschhoek, and was transported to Morrocco in pieces by various team members and assembled on site. 

African Solar Design | House and Leisure
ALSO READ: 8 Examples Of Incredible Sustainable Architecture 


Background to SA's African solar design project

In 2018, Sharné Bloem was completing her masters in Sustainable Development at the Sustainability Institute in Stellenbosch. During her final year of studies, Bloem submitted a design proposal to the Solar Decathlon Africa competition and her submission was selected as one of the top 20 teams that would be finalists in the African solar design competition.

Dubbed Team Mahali, the SA team is the only one officially from Sub-Saharan Africa, with the main entry coming from the University of Stellenbosch in collaboration with the University of Cape Town (UCT).

The selected teams are able to work alongside industry experts and non-profit organisations in an effort to promote sustainabiltiy, increase access to clean energy and improve the quality of life within the African context. 

Bloem explains that team members were specifically selected due to their abiltiies and fields of study.

'After selection, I had to compile a team that could address the 10 competition cetergories as set out by the Solar Decathlon Africa,' she says.

'The best way forward was to have team leads covering these catergories. I asked Mike Louw [senior lecturer Michael Louw, of UCT’s School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics] if he would want to be part of this journey. He and other team leads were keen and designing, planning and developing of the idea kicked off,' adds Bloem.

African Solar Design | House and Leisure

The final Team Mahali was comprised of members of the Sustainabiltiy Institute, engineering students from Stellenbosch University, architecture students from the School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics as part of UCT, and additional engineering students from UCT. 

Louw explains the essence of the designed house as follows: 'The house is unique in the sense that it finds inspiration in traditional African building forms and in handcrafts that make use of unconventional material. This is evident in the reinterpretation of the traditional courtyard typology of the Moroccan riad, and in the use of the crocheted recycled plastic bags for its cladding, amongst other [elements].' 

ALSO READ: Hooked On Morocco: A Guide To This Colourful Country