Archive for ‘Journal’

August 18, 2019

Plastic Nave

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A few months back I submitted an entry to an architectural competition hosted by Young Architecture Competitions (YAC) called Plastic Monument. It is a proposal for a monument meant to embody the problems that plastic waste is having on our oceans and planet. The project brief as well as the selected winners can be found on the YAC website.

I thought I had a chance at winning, but my entry was not selected. I think once again I was probably too ambitious. The winners were either meshes filled with plastic waste to make a desired shape, or else a representation of how plastic is filling our oceans or how many plastic bottles are produced each minute. My project was a nave constructed using a plastic bottle space frame detail that I developed. The bottles are easy to assemble and disassemble making it easy to involve the community and recycle the bottles afterwards. The nave is a an open space of awe and light and side aisles host a photography exhibition about plastic and our planet. The space frame structure is paired with a scaffold that holds a clear modular container that is suspended above the nave and collects the plastic waste collected during the monument’s tour. The container is designed to be lowered and new wall extension pieces added so that it can hold more over time. It can even fill up so much that the whole nave is full and the visitors can only walk through the side aisles.

I think that my proposal is more impactful than others as it would involve the community in the collection of bottles and construction of the nave, impacting their perspectives and using local plastic that may otherwise end up in a landfill. Secondly, a monument that changes physically and takes away the light and beauty of the original construction has more meaning to visitors than a metaphorical sculpture. And finally, the space frame detail, if developed further, could become a construction detail used to make improvements to precarious housing, for temporary constructions like pavilions during festivals, or for refugee housing, a construction that has practical uses in many parts of the world where there is no infrastructure for plastic waste. Even though this competition has ended, I am super excited to develop this prototype further on my own. In a few months Othy and I will be moving to Kinshasa where I hope to collect more used bottles and build a larger prototype.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this competition proposal and the prototype. Feel free to leave comments below! Check out lifesectionstudio.com for more of my design work.

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August 13, 2019

Entrepreneurship Forum

While I was in Nairobi attending the NOCMAT Conference, Othy travelled to Abuja, Nigeria where he participated in the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Forum. Here are some photos from his time there and a link to a video by the DRC presidential office that he was interviewed for.

August 10, 2019

NOCMAT Conference

The International Conference for Non-Conventional Building Materials was held at the University of Nairobi which has a beautiful campus. On day 1 my favourite sessions were a keynote lecture on the development of standards for non-conventional materials, a presentation about the challenges and opportunities for the reuse of excavated material in the built environment, and a presentation on the development of a panelized building system for low-cost housing using waste cardboard and repurposed wood. Another interesting presentation was the one before mine on lessons learned by MASS Design Group and ARUP on earth construction they did for the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture. My own presentation was on the analysis of earthquake testing trends of alternative building materials. It went well and I received some valuable critical feedback afterwards from two structural engineers.

The following day my favourite sessions were on the application of alternative construction techniques in rehabilitation of urban slums, and the study of the socio-economic, cultural, and environmental impact of the use of unconventional building materials in conventional buildings. These were both presented by the partners of a design practice in India called Masons Ink. Overall I enjoyed the conference and made connections from a variety of backgrounds including engineers, materials researchers, architects, and community activists. The overlapping of various disciplines was a welcome sight as collaboration between these groups is what is needed to solve the complex problems in our world today.

August 4, 2019

Bamboo Design Workshop

From July 24th – 28th I attended the International Conference of Non-Conventional Materials and Technologies (IC-NOCMAT). The first day of the conference was a workshop held by an engineer and bamboo specialist from ARUP, a structural design firm that has an international development arm. I found the workshop to be very useful because it helped me understand the strengths and weaknesses of bamboo as a material and the importance of appropriate design for its use. Here are some of the biggest points I took away from it:

  • Bamboo can last forever if it can be kept free of beetles, termites and rot
  • The best and safest form of treatment is the use of Boron (and it’s also readily available as it is used as a fertilizer for agriculture), but it’s biggest weakness is that it can wash out if exposed to moisture
  • Therefore all exposed bamboo structures need to be protected entirely from rain and splashing and for rain a 45 degree angle must be considered when designing roof overhangs because rain can always come at an angle.
  • There are three ways the bamboo can be treated with Boron. The most traditional way is piercing the inner nodes with rebar and using a bath (7-14 days in cold water, 7 hours in hot water). There is also a “boucherie” method where the end is clamped and the liquid is forced through the longitudinal cells of the bamboo. The last way is called VSD  where the bamboo are stood up on end in a scaffold, all the nodes are pierced except the last one, and the bamboo is filled up for 7-14 days.
  • In some cases fire protection needs to be a consideration. Bamboo walls can be protected using mud plaster, cement/lime plaster or gypsum plasterboard. The plaster would need to be applied to a matrix that helps it adhere to the wall system. 25mm of mortar or 12mm of gypsum plaster board provides a 30 minute fire rating
  • Bamboo is strongest in compression. I always thought it was strong in tension too but because of the connections, bamboo is much weaker in tension. One design consideration is to consider using bamboo in compression where it is strong, and use steel rods in tension.
  • Another thing to consider is that bamboo is weak in the cross-sectional direction. Because of this a design should try to create direct load paths. For example, it is better for columns to move past beams so that there isn’t a heavily loaded column bearing on a beam
  • Connections are always the weakest point and a few things to keep in mind when designing them are to minimize holes, pre-drill all nails and screws, use dry bamboo (and keep it dry), reinforce against splitting, consider corrosion protection to steel, fill nodes with cement mortar (that will not shrink or expand), and design out areas where water can collect.
  • There are few codes and standards available but the most well developed one is the Colombian code NSR-10G developed specifically for the Guadua variety. ISO has developed codes 22156 and 22157 but they currently have errors. The good news is there is an updated version in development. In the meantime a good guideline is the IStructE Note series.

That is a summary of the most valuable lessons I took from the workshop. Of course this summary does not replace the need to consult an experienced structural engineer when working on a specific project. I hope that I will get an opportunity to work with bamboo in Congo! The reason why it has become established as a building material in Colombia is because the government supported it, standards were developed, and architects such as Simón Vélez have made some beautiful projects out of it that are showing the possibilities of what can be done with good design and craftsmanship. So perhaps the same is possible in Congo and we can start using a building material that is available, affordable, and highly renewable!

August 1, 2019

Nairobi 2.0

This past week I took my second trip to Nairobi. This time it was for the International Conference of Non-Conventional Building Materials and Technologies (IC-NOCMAT). Since I was coming from Kampala I decided to save money and take the bus. The cost was $45 roundtrip instead of $300! The bus departed on Sunday night at 7pm and I made a special request to the driver to drop me in Limuru which was on the way and saved me the time of going into the city only to come back out again. It was a 14 hour journey! I managed to get at least a few hours of sleep after walking to the front of the bus and asking the driver to turn off the music. I think music on overnight buses has become a real pet peeve of mine and I am getting bolder!

After getting off in Limuru I walked a short way to a nearby gas station and then called a boda to pick me up and take me to where the Shaws live. I visited them the last time I was in Nairobi and they are in the same neighbourhood but have moved to a different house. It was a warm reunion and extra large because other international CI staff were there! The first day was full of naps between times of catching up. In the late morning I went on a walk with Kate to Browns Cheese which make delicious cheeses, crackers and apparently ice cream too. Once back at the house I filled up on some of the best crackers and gouda I have had in a long time! In the early evening I went on a walk with the Lawsons and Martins to the tea fields. It was so beautiful! I enjoyed the fresh air and peacefulness that comes from being outside the city. The next day I had to get a bunch of work done since I wouldn’t have the chance to do any for the following three days of the conference. Other people needed to get work done too which created a nice working atmosphere. That night for dinner Kate made lasagna because I had told her it was my favourite. I was so spoiled!

Jon, Kate and the kids were headed to Nairobi early the next morning and so I was able to get a ride with them. We went to a cafe called Le Grenier à Pain, and I enjoyed a delicious hot chocolate and pain au chocalat before saying my farewells. I ordered an Uber to take me to my Airbnb to drop off my bags before continuing to the university for day 1 of the conference. The location of the apartment building where the Airbnb was located wasn’t obvious but after asking around I found the entrance. The street was busy and a bit ruddy, but the unit itself was well furnished and peaceful. The price was right at $20 per night and the place was only a short walk from the university. I was running a bit late dropping off my bags, but decided to walk to the university anyways in order to get my bearings. The university proved easy to find as the conference was being held at the University of Nairobi Towers which is a clear landmark. I was thankful for the time I had catching up with old friends and also for the opportunity to learn more about alternative building materials! Day 1 of the conference was a bamboo workshop which I will share about in my next post!

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July 16, 2019

Billow

Title: Billow

Date: June, 2019

Medium: Folded paper on card

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Random first placement of pieces

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Groomed to form a wave

 

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June 20, 2019

Results Review

I just recently finished a 12 week workout program by Results App. When I lived in Toronto I would get enough exercise walking and biking to get from A to B, but after living in Kampala for several months, I found that I needed another way to get exercise and get rid of my restlessness. I currently work from home and so I don’t go out often during the day. I don’t enjoy walking or running where we live because there is a high traffic road and no sidewalks! I started the app hoping it would also help relieve back pain that I had been dealing with for some time. It has definitely helped! Over time my back pain and stiffness became less and less until now I almost experience none at all. The ab work has helped, but I think that working my glutes made the biggest difference. Overall I am glad that I tried the app. For now I will continue with it though may decide to seek an open source alternative sometime soon. Below I list out what I like about the app, what I think can be improved, and things to be prepared for.

Here are the things that I liked about the app:

  • It plans the workouts for you so that you don’t have to think about it
  • The user interface is very simple and easy to understand. There is a voice option that can be turned on to guide you through the exercises so you don’t need to be looking at your phone the whole time.
  • The workouts change up over time and gradually get more challenging based on an initial fitness test and feedback you give after each workout
  • The workouts average at about 30 minutes though they got on the longer side closer to the end
  • Short video clips help with proper form of an exercise that is unfamiliar
  • The videos are short and don’t require too much data (an important one for Uganda!)
  • I like that there are alternatives offered for exercises that may be too challenging (i.e. knee push-ups in place of push-ups), though I only use them rarely because I am stubborn…
  • The app is flexible and allows you to choose how many days you want to work out each week. After you choose, it reminds you to keep to what you said you would do
  • When late on finishing the number of workouts that week, it tells you how many days you are overdue, and encourages you to get back in the game; I had weeks where I was sick or traveling, and appreciated that it had a balance between keeping you to your goals without overly discouraging you at missing a target. It actually took me 4 months to complete the 3 month program.
  • There is an option to set a separate cardio goal that can be measured using the parallel Runtastic App. It is nice how the two apps share info. Runtastic offers a choice of running training programs that are also available under the Results membership.
  • The cost is $12CAD per month with tax. I’m on the fence with this one. It is much more affordable than a gym membership and yet I sometimes think how they must be raking in the money with so many people registered. I would challenge Results to make themselves more affordable so that lower income people can also benefit.

Here are things that I think could be improved:

  • The workouts sometimes became too hard, too fast. I’m stubborn and so I wasn’t always ready to give an honest review at the end of a workout; it could be cool if they assessed performance based on the time it took to do the exercises rather than just our opinion.
  • The stretches are the same every time. I think they could also be a bit more varied.
  • The second time I did the fitness test it measured my improvement to be very small when I think it was more significant than that. I think that the test isn’t accurate because there are only so many exercises (like situps, squats, or burpies) you can do in a minute with good form. So perhaps the time period needs to be longer or the exercises need to be more difficult to get a better sense of overall improvement.
  • I think they focus too much on weight loss in the app. I would like the focus to be more about being strong and healthy and reducing pain while increasing mobility.
  • The app always asks after every workout whether I want to share my results with social media. I would like a setting where I can turn this question off so I don’t even have to see it. I don’t think my friends need to know how many push-ups I did on Tuesday.

Things to be prepared for:

  • I didn’t realize how much jumping this program has! I can’t say I love it but am getting used to it and have seen biggest improvements in this area. Fortunately the jumps are quite varied and so they don’t get boring.
  • I still get sore after these workouts even though I am past the 12 week mark! I thought I would get past it in the first week, but how wrong I was! I tried Insanity for a month and was only sore the first week, but for this program the soreness keeps coming, probably because the bar keeps getting raised higher each time.
  • The improvement on my arms is a much slower work in progress and not as much as I was hoping for. I’m going to keep chugging away at it though! I found this Runtastic article about incline pushups very helpful and am trying to do them on days between workouts.

That’s it! I hope that you find this review helpful.

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June 14, 2019

Photos from Othy’s Time Away

Here are some photos from the time Othy was in Butembo and Beni.

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Reunion with CBCA English Service Choir

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Some of Othy’s students working on a practical assignment

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Othy and his interns who are helping him with some programming work

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Catching up with work colleagues

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Saying goodbye to family before making the journey back to Kampala to visit

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June 11, 2019

Home Alone

When I arrived back in Kampala from my trip to Canada, Othy had already left to teach a few intensive courses at UCBC back in Beni. We had purchased the plane ticket to Canada so fast that we forgot that Othy had to bring the car back to the border on the 27th, while I would be returning on the 28th. So we juuust missed each other. I was glad to be back in the place we are temporarily calling home, but it was strange and lonely to be there without Othy. The first week was therefore very long as I lived at home and worked from home, the only outings being to walk to the nearby store every few nights to pick up things like milk or bananas.

Fortunately I had an opportunity for a reprieve from the stillness as my former E4C project manager was in Kampala for a conference and wanted to meet up on the Friday evening for drinks. She proposed we meet at the rooftop bar of the Skyz Hotel, which fortunately was not that far from our place. I got there at 6, Mariela at 6:30, and we caught up and watched the sun set over the city before other friends and previous E4C fellows arrived. It was nice to catch up with previous fellows Trevor and Peter, and meet Doreen who applied for the fellowship this year. Since she lives past my neighbourhood she was able to give me a ride home.

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The following week would have looked much the same except that I got a call from friends of ours, Abi and Drew who were wondering if I could help tutor Drew in ArcGIS for a course he’s taking over distance. Because they live quite far across the city, they offered to host me for two nights in one of the cottages they have at Adonai Gardens. I brought my laptop along and in the times between helping Drew I worked on my own stuff. I enjoyed meals with their family and got to interact a bit with their young son. On one of the mornings we had a smoothy bar where I introduced them to banana, avocado and orange smoothy and they introduced me to banana, avocado, cocoa, and peanut butter smoothy. Yum! On the final morning before leaving they gave me a tour of the house they are building on a nearby property. It is built primarily out of local materials and has a lot of character. Drew is in the forestry sector and knows about many kinds of trees and pointed out some of the ones he has planted including one in the photo below which is a teak tree.

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That Friday Doreen invited me to an event hosted by InterNations. I had seen some adds on Facebook about this and it is gatherings of people from around the world now living in Kampala to help people to get settled, make friends, and get familiar with a new city. The people that I met were from many different places and cultures and it was interesting to hear some of their stories. I find meeting and conversing with new people a great way to get out of ones own head! It reminded me a bit of some of the cultural exchange that I experienced when Couchsurfing.

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On Sunday it was Othy’s birthday. For the second year in a row we were spending our birthdays apart! Last year we were apart for his birthday because I was in Nairobi for the E4C kick-off session. We joked that we had better be together next year or else it could be said that we have made it a tradition lol! The best we could do to celebrate was to have a nice long conversation on Whatsapp. The following weekend was my birthday. I decided to have an open house on the Saturday and invite friends to stop by whenever they wanted. Élisée came for a bit and then shortly after he left Patrick and Lynette came by. Obady came by for dinner and I made homemade tortillas for the first time and served tacos. Sunday was super quiet. It rained all morning and so I didn’t go to church and instead had a lazy day at home. That evening I had a nice long chat with Othy and later with my mom.

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Because the weeks felt so long without seeing many people, I was motivated to see if I could find Swahili lessons that would give me an opportunity for some engagement. Taking Swahili classes had been on my mind for a long time already, but it was as if my solitude was the final kick-in-the-butt that I needed to move forward with it. I inquired at the Kampala Language Center and was able to convince the instructor to let me join a course that had already been running for three weeks already since I had already taught myself some Swahili out of a book. It is a small class with five students. It has helped a lot to make the weeks go by faster and give me more energy! I am happy to be learning Swahili again since I feel like I have lost so much time from being away from Beni for this long.

Finally after one month on my own, Othy returned for a two week visit in between his courses! It was so good to have him back, even for a short time! I pray that outside events don’t prevent Othy and I from living apart from each other for so long again.

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May 22, 2019

Birds from my Balcony

One of my favourite things about our apartment in Kiwaatule is the generous balcony that is in front of our living area. Although we don’t sit out there often because of the dust that coats every surface in a day, we like to take breaks from our work a few times a day and walk out there and take in the view and the open air. I have also been exercising on the balcony a few mornings each week. I have a routine of waking up and mopping the balcony first before starting so that the tile isn’t slippery with the dust. In the mornings I open the narrow double doors to the balcony and keep them open for the whole day.

We also get to see a range of different birds of all shapes and sizes from the balcony. I recently decided to start using my zoom lens to try and capture some of them in photos. I have no idea what kinds of birds they are, only that they are amazing creatures! I hope to grow this collection over time. The idea to do this was inspired by two new troublesome neighbours in red who attempt to peck at their reflection in my window. The first time it happened it was early morning and I nearly jumped out of my skin until I found out what was making all the noise! Now I’ve learned to turn my light on when that happens.

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