Is wood the key to sustainable cities in Africa?

Can the future of Africa’s cities grow on trees?

When I graduated from architecture school, I was excited to put my training in sustainable architecture into practice. But the reality of Nairobi, Kenya, was a wake-up call. The excessive commercialization of the industry directly contradicts the poor poverty. the two million housing shortage and ongoing natural disasters brought about by climate change, urbanization and unemployment.

The current rate of urbanization in Africa has caused a tremendous increase in construction. Over 60 years ago, Johannesburg was the only urban center in Africa with more than one million inhabitants. Today there are more than 40 such cities and an expected population of 2.4 billion people by 2050 . And the urgency to build is increasing.

This is not only true in Africa. The UN predicts that it will be worldwide 230 billion square meters of construction – which is equivalent to building a new city Paris every week – for the next 40 years.

This means that our built environment is responsible for it 39% of all global carbon emissions with 28% of operating energy (heating, cooling, lighting, etc.) and 11% is of materials and construction. This is because the most commonly used materials; steel, cement and concrete, each contributes 5% to global carbon emissions.

To counteract this, high timber projects are the new global trend in sustainable design. The developers of Milwaukee’s wood Ascent apartment complex, for example, say its use is equivalent to wood. 2 100 motors off the road.

Other projects includes a Toronto Riverfront neighborhood with about a dozen wooden buildings between 10 and 35 stories high, and Mj ø st å rnet apartments in Norway, which was recently crowned as the tallest wooden structure in the world. 18 stories tall.

Now many look to the forest of Africa as a home solution.

Wood, as a construction material, is strong, fire resistant and carbon positive. The fire-resistant properties are the most intuitive, but studies shows that it forms a protective and self-extinguishing layer of coal that allows retains 100% of its structural strength . It is also very difficult to ignite in the first place. With modern engineering techniques, solid wood products such as cross-laminated wood (CLT) and limboom improve their properties to fit steel or concrete and perform even better.

In addition, sustainable commercial forest growth reduces and manages deforestation by removing logs from preserved forests. In addition to adding forest cover, it also gives people economic incentive to plant trees constantly. In Sweden, the commercial forestry sector has led to an increase in its forest cover up to more than 70% in less than 100 years .

When a tree dies, the carbon it absorbed during its lifetime seeps back into the atmosphere. In reality, 17% of all greenhouse emissions come from carbon released from dead trees. If the tree is converted into wood for construction, that carbon is “locked up” or sequestered in the building.

Studies shows that one cubic meter of wood can store more than a ton of carbon dioxide, and the construction of our future cities of wood can help prevent climate change.

Africa is ready to take part in this movement.

Africa’s agricultural economy has jobs 65–70% of Africa’s workforce is usually 30-40% of its GDP. With 45% of the global total area suitable for agricultural production and an abundance of labor, land and water, means that Africa has the necessary resources for a massive expansion of agricultural and commercial forestry production.

With commercial forestry, the incentive is not to replace agricultural products, but to grow trees next door as a long-term investment. In Western Kenya, for example, the profits of only ten, six-year-old trees can cover an entire term of a child’s high school education . This will shift the economic stability of millions away from the manual economy in the sector.

The cultivation of sustainable commercial forest trees will also help prevent deforestation, by removing logging from preserved indigenous forests and also increasing the forest cover in Africa, which is happening. four times faster as the world rate. With a loss of 40,000 square kilometers per year, however, we must now start planting the trees to seize the opportunity to build the sustainable cities of Africa.

COVID -19 caused global shifts in education, health and lifestyle in its urgency within a few months. Climate change is increasingly known as 30 years but solutions remain at a high level and are not related to people on the ground. Only until we climb out of the living room and start empowering communities to plant and build with wood will real change take place.

In addition, policymakers should not only view trees from a forestry and conservation perspective, but also as an economic opportunity. Which will benefit climate change, increase forest cover and create jobs.

We must now start planning for our cities of the future.

Africa is in a unique position to use its agricultural power to grow the cities of the future – and to combat climate change along the way.

Etta Madete is an architectural designer at Buildx Studio, a lecturer (TF) at the University of Nairobi, and an Aspen 2020 Fellow. In all its capacities, it practices, teaches and conducts research on architectural design innovation to bring sustainable economic, social and environmental development to Kenya and beyond.
Most recently, she was the Kenyan lead researcher for the 2020/21 Guggenheim-NY exhibition with Rem Koolhaas, OMA, and the Harvard GSD.
Follow her on @ettamadete


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