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Back to the future with net-zero carbon homes, students from Cape Town lead the charge in constructing a R300 000 fully equipped solar-powered home in partnership with the Green Build Council and the City of Cape Town.

What inspired the home

The team of three also received a top three placing in a similar competition the previous year in Morocco. Along with a multitude of other global students who participated in the competition that required them to develop and erect homes that don’t rely on conventional power sources, they had to function at net-zero-energy while being mechanised only by the sun. The near 20 dwellings that were built by the participants were then placed onto an urban living lab and Smart Building Park in the host country.

Sharne Bloem, who was the first member of , works for a decorated research department at Stellenbosch University and specialises in Complex Systems in Transitions. She highlighted that her team’s main goal is to ensure that future homes built in South Africa will have no emissions whatsoever.

She hopes they can construct homes that are good for the environment by withdrawing the energy they need from regenerative power sources. This idea could translate well for current hydration and garbage methodologies that need to be updated.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has put sharply into focus the need to rethink the very definition of housing, all the more so because our living spaces have become our ‘offices’ too.We were also made acutely aware of the benefits of living with others to combat isolation and depression and as a way of splitting costs and saving,” said Bloem.

Envisioning the fountain 

The students designed a fountain that stores water and is additionally built onto the house to serve as a depository for water from raindrops, creating a much-needed supply of fresh drinking water.

“This central water feature was connected to a 2 000 litre ‘water bladder’ installed under the deck. The water was then used for the upcycled food garden and washing the solar PV panels,” Bloem said.

As a result of winning the competition, the many attributes built by Team Mahali will now be studied further and analysed in detail with the main focus on the home’s moveability, rodent repellence as well as the reasonable pricing it costs to erect the structure.

What the Home Emphasises

One of the Team Mahali designers, Wimbayi Kadzere, who graduated from Stellenbosch University, stressed the necessity of having more room and how advantageous it is for allowing sunshine and flow of air inside a built structure. According to Kadzere,

“The configuration of spaces in the Mahali houses around a central courtyard regulates the air and light quality within those spaces and supports reduced energy consumption. Ultimately, it encourages the wellness of occupants without the added costs of mechanical ventilation and lighting.”

The home’s design was established using authentic home garden methodologies to ensure a perfect marriage between owning a beautiful home, living healthily, and having great overall well-being.  The layouts for both homes were inspired by a beautiful African tree, Kadzere shared.

“We hide from the warm African sun under it, we transfer knowledge and stories under it. A tree not only provides shade but also generates energy through the leaves and has a sophisticated water system inside and out to stay alive. The courtyard typology was complimentary to our tree concept and can also facilitate a passive cooling effect.”

South Africa’s metropolitan cities of eThekwini, Tshwane, Johannesburg, and Cape Town also decided to participate in the C40 cities no emissions by 2050 initiative. Team Mahlali is taking full advantage and are now focusing on two subjects; upcycling and the disruptive nature of net-zero carbon and the place of technology.

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