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Robust Buildings | Implementation is Fraught with Difficulties


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Typically on a building project, estimates of quantities are taken off the drawings and materials are delivered to site, usually timed so that they are available and ready to be used when needed. Power, water and a skilled workforce are basic assumptions on any construction project. So how do you organize construction, when basic resources are not available, skilled labour extremely limited, materials may or may not be obtainable, and in any case transport to remote sites impossible. Struggling to move ahead under such conditions is fraught with delays, shortages and often concessions are made out of necessity, which ultimately compromises the integrity of the end result.

The Pacific islands are extremely limited in supplies and often, only goods that have a quick turn around are shipped in by ferries. This often limits hardware goods to cement, a cheap grade of plywood that delaminates when exposed to moisture, a few nails and a very thin vinyl flooring called “tabi’ that has a lifespan less than six months.

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Logistics | The Tail Wagging the Dog.


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The answer is to work out what can be produced locally by, and import the remainder. Depending on the design philosophy and the “will” to incorporate locally sourced products, the mix can vary but invariably there is an overwhelming amount of imported materials. Typically, there is little attempt at integrating local items, and an attitude of bringing everything in prevails, which in turn becomes expensive, as while the materials themselves may not be thought of as being expensive, by the time duties and freight are paid, the costs of those same goods have increased tremendously.

Local Island Ferries | Amazing to Watch but a Step Back in Time.


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Careful consideration is needed in respect to freighting, as ferries are inclined to push items in every nook and cranny, and items belonging to one customer are likely to be distributed throughout the hold of the ship. While the process of loading and unloading appears chaotic, eventually most items get disentangled and placed together on the wharf, but of course there no guarantee. The sight of contractors with clipboards pacing up and down wharfs, trying to check off everything from six-metre reinforcing bars, bags of cement through to frozen chickens and bottled water, is a sight to behold. This all occurring in a race against the tide, to get everything off in time before the ferry has to disembark and continue on the next tide.

Island Transport | Local Trucking Companies ...... Right ?


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Of course, there is always the assumption that there is a six-metre truck at the other end available to place the reinforcing, cement and bulk goods in one movement. This, however, is wishful thinking and everything gets put piecemeal onto 4wd utes at whatever their transport costs are. Long lengths of reinforcing hang over both ends, dragging on the ground at the rear and the drivers need to be careful to avoid the bars overhanging the cab from hitting and damaging the cab roof. All and all it is a slow procedure, that may take days if the building site is remote from the airport, and depending on the weather, a tropical downpour may wreck havoc with logistics by making roads impassable, while at the same time ruining or damaging loose items.

Therefore, from a transport management point of view, materials should be cut up and designs carried out to utilize items limited to certain sizes, to accommodate the normal mode of transport in the islands, the 4WD ute. Realities are such that designs should avoid items that possess substantial volume or weight, as these will increase problems with and costs of transport. Further, having a large number of diverse items is asking for critical components to go missing, causing delays and expense for replacements. It is essential that all materials are packaged into suitably sized sturdy boxes ( for cartage on the back of utes) thereby keeping everything together. The disadvantages of this are that these generally need to be freighted on ferries that either have cranes or forklifts for loading and unloading, but many do and the advantages in getting boxes to site far outweigh any downside. Also, the boxes can be covered so that any bad weather in transit is unlikely to affect the materials themselves.

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Detailed Design + Prefabrication | A Positive Solution.


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These inherent practicalities can only be catered for in the logistics if the design has been modelled to be aligned with this philosophy, and a concept of taking a pile of raw materials is incompatible with this. Accordingly, prefabricated designs are imperative so that components are already cut to size and can be nested efficiently in transport. Logically, ideal economies are obtained if the boxes themselves can be used as fundamental elements of the proposed buildings, and extensive thought should be put into ensuring that everything transported is encompassed in the building work. The motto of being low technology by design is really about being smart about what is used and how it is used, and in this case an analogy with “transformers” is relevant.

Upcoming Second Part to robust buildings :

Intelligent Designs that are innovative for Local Conditions. Robust Buildings - Part 2

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