PICS: The house that junk built

Published Jun 28, 2017


It has been described as a utopia of sorts, but can the African Green Revolution House be the solution to housing inequality, asks Marchelle Abrahams.

Imagine a community with homes built from 100% recyclable material? Nothing goes to waste and everyone has a job to sustain its success. This is Michelle Markram’s dream. And soon she hopes to make it reality.

Also known as the organic eccentric, Markram is no stranger to sustainable living projects. An artist and a free thinker, she has the ability to make people see beauty in the things we take for granted. The owner of Msquared (MSQ) Interior Design, her ethos “Out of Nothing Comes Something” is the reason she has set her sights on grassroots level with the African Green Revolution initiative. Called the African Green Revolution (AGR) House, it is a sophisticated new low-cost home made from recycled products.

The home will be showcased at this year’s ECR House & Garden Show at the Durban Exhibition Centre from June 30 to July 9.

The 5-room structure comprising a bedroom, bathroom, open-plan kitchen lounge and dining room with an outdoor patio was built using 2l plastic bottles for bricks and plastic bottle lids for flooring.

“When you see the home, it will blow your mind. The stuff we throw away and discard are lovingly picked up and placed together,” Makram says, describing their AGR stand at the show.

Her passion and drive is evident as she describes the reason for taking on such a gargantuan task.

“Our goal is to both solve sustainable building issues and inspire new innovations,” she says. “The AGR House demonstrates the value and the wealth in waste, a profound new direction for society as a whole to move toward.”

With AGR concentrating all their efforts on a blueprint township, the location, still to be decided, the goal is to go national once the first AGR village of sustainable homes and a central community centre are successfully implemented. But it takes a huge amount of funding and support, says Markram.

“It requires government collaboration and funding to get the initiative off the ground. It’s still a work in progress.” With an integrated team of professional development consultants that include specialist town-planners, engineers, and environmental and legal consultants, AGR wants to change the way we see waste.

The house includes a vertical vegetable garden adorning the roof, envisioned to become a long-term source of food for residents.

The centre of the home will hold a gum-pole for load bearing, cladded with tree stumps to create a tree for aesthetic purposes. Aesthetically, the home’s interior will be designed and decorated utilising waste as resource. A plastic bottle bed base and 2-seater couch, stick and glass beer bottles for lighting; nothing will go to waste.

So, the big question is: who will benefit from the AGR house?

“We are focusing on providing sustainable homes to displaced families living in informal settlements,” said Markram. “We’ve used solid waste to form the homes’ key building structures. In this way we have the ability to re-purpose tons of rubbish, thereby reducing the amount sent to landfills and the environmental impact in general.”

In a perfect world, it sounds like utopia. But how will this come together in reality?

AGR knows that handing over a home to an underprivileged person does not help, neither is it sustainable. Their aim is to provide a holistic model for the benefit of individual, family and the community.

How is it possible?

1. Education is key to change perceptions about waste in general - teaching the community about turning waste into a saleable commodity (solar light made from a 2L plastic bottle, bleach and water). Michelle trains unskilled and unemployed members of society in this regard. But she recognises the necessity to ramp up training.

Willing participants are furnished with an AGR loyalty card.

2. Participants deposit clean waste materials at selected depots. Cards are swiped and points accrued in proportion to waste deposited. Individuals accrue points for their own personal gain as well as community upliftment initiatives such as upgrading of educational centres or the local hospital.

3. Waste becomes a valuable commodity owing to the value of the points system. This is achievable due to AGR motivating communities to meet their own basic needs in terms of housing.

4. AGR is aware that every person will move through the hierarchy in a uni-directional manner. It is, therefore, pertinent to mention that not all individuals will achieve the pinnacle of self-actualisation and hence dedicated commitment to the cause. A concept in the making for two years, Markram is making it her life’s mission to get the initiative off the ground.

“I am passionate about this initiative. It is my quest that in changing perceptions of junk, I can change people’s perceptions of hierarchy and bring hope to the notion of equality for all”

* The ECR House & Garden Show, on from June 30 to July 9 at the Durban Exhibition Centre, will be offering visitors a peek at two more South African home trends: automation and small space living.

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