Architect Oliver von Malm has developed an interlocking concrete block system that makes it possible to erect buildings easily and at low cost. The Start Somewhere project plans to use this modular mortar-free concept of hollow concrete blocks that interlock and that can be built and demolished by hand to improve construction and living, particularly in slums. Start Somewhere is a non-profit private limited organisation from Munich with nine years’ experience in development cooperation in Kibera, a slum in Nairobi, Kenya, which happens to be one of Africa’s largest. Special properties suitable for local conditions were incorporated into the development of the construction system, with wall segments that can turned at any angle to enable flexible floor plans that make maximum use of the typically irregular property layouts in disadvantaged communities.

Slums are informal settlements, so while residents own the buildings they do not own the land. If the residents lose their housing, for example due to new road construction, they can dismantle the buildings by hand and re-erect them elsewhere. Thanks to the low-consumption use of concrete, the new buildings are more attractive and of higher quality while also being similarly affordable to houses built with mud, timber and corrugated iron using common methods. Since no timber is used whatsoever, the buildings are better protected against the fires that can spread rapidly in slums due to the population density and timber structures. An initial school building is currently being constructed in Kibera as a pilot project. The hollow concrete blocks required for it are being made on the ground by local workers at the first Start Somewhere workshop. This creates jobs as well as a construction industry; the value created will remain in the community.

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