MasterBuild Africa

Innovative building design and construction in Africa

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The building and construction industry is one of the most important sector in the worlds’ economy. This sector hires more than 10% of the workforce accounting for almost 20% of the national product. In construction, innovation refers to the introduction and actual utilization of non-trivial improvements and changes in the processes, systems and products in a manner that is new to the industry. These innovations may take several forms and it is important to understand the various forms as applied in this industry.

Innovation can be incremental- small and typically based on existing knowledge and experiences. It can also be modular, radical, system or architectural. Radical innovations usually embody a breakthrough in either science or technology while modular innovation influences just a component of the entire product. Architectural and system forms of innovation deal with changes in links that influence components or entire systems and multiple integrated innovations respectively.

Globalization and exposure to technological advances in other parts of the world, politics and international relations and client pressure are the reasons credited with bringing about innovation in the construction industry in Africa. Compared to other sectors, construction has always reported lower levels of innovation; the general perception being that it is never in tandem with innovation.

Issues that encourage innovation

Globalization: Ease of trade between nations is one of the effects of globalization. Ease of trade makes innovative designs and products available to individuals in all parts of the world. A design conceptualized in Europe can be customized and perfected for an African setting. The same applies with knowledge and the learning processes that influence innovation.

Clients and the construction firms: Clients can enhance innovation by identifying specific requirements they want building product suppliers, developers or contractors to come up with. They can also demand that project participants improve life cycle performance, project flexibility and overall characteristics of constructions projects they put up. In this manner, construction and design standards are beefed up. These demands by clients can then be worked into the research and development agenda for the construction industry.

Politics and the effect of international relations: The East and particularly China has in the recent past shown interest in Africa which was majorly initially West-leaning. This is now creating an aura of scramble with both development partners looking to exert their influence. The iconic structure of the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa Ethiopia was constructed with aid from China and it has substantial oriental influence and innovation aspects. This can however influence innovation most especially in civil construction.

Issues discouraging innovation

Lack of Investment in Research and Development: Research and development and its place in influencing innovation rely a lot on a feedback system that includes the academia, manufacturing firms and their clients. These firms and their clients play a key role in driving innovation; in fact, clients are thought to exert an enormous ability to influence firms and individuals in construction in terms of innovation. The place of research in innovation thus relies on using the benefits of technology to produce new ways of construction but more specifically in a manner that embodies the demands of clients.

Disconnect between industry and the academia: The construction industry in Africa does not have very great links with the academia. This is as a result of the little coordination between industry and academia especially in matters concerning research and fragmented supply chains. Critical forces that can positively influence innovation are left out as a result. As stated above, clients have a pivotal role in shaping innovation. However, their input do not inform the research questions. The research findings the academia churns out therefore fail in practicality and applicability.

Below are some photos of innovative designs in Africa:

Gando Primary School, Burkina Faso designed by architect Diebedo Francis Kere
Container School, South Africa designed by architect Y Tsai
Cliff House, Senegal designed by architects Stefan Antony, Olmesdahi Philip and Greg Truen.

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