Cement shortage

Some photos from site and town during formation the concrete footing course ready for the brickwork foundation walls. Timing for buying cement was not great as there was suddenly a shortage in town. Northern Malawi receives the majority of cement from its northern border on the way from a works in Mbeya in Tanzania. However due to an increase in transport costs and charges at the border lorries were no longer making the commitment to the journey down to Mzuzu. We spent a few days waiting for phone calls from local contacts and stores in Mzuzu to hear if any trucks were en-route from the border. When we got news of a delivery to Chipuku stores in the centre of town we had to be quick with the pick up in getting to the front of the que to get our hands on a few of the scarce bags. Hopefully prices will not continue to rise and we can source the remaining cement needed for the main slab.


Loading the pick up with 15 bags


Just to appreciate, this guy is carrying 50kg’s on his head


The circular cement mixing plaftform





Mr Kalua and re-enforcement wire that will be needed soon for the main slab


Collecting sand

Some photo from a recent trip to the Ekwindeni river bed to collect sand. It was a long drive inland away from the M1 into the ‘bush’ (as Mr Kalua refers to it) and the heat was intense. There were numerous boys waiting to help who had incredible levels of energy in such heat. I was determined to get stuck in though.


The local boys waitng to get started


This was a serious gym workout!





There was clearly a community of families and children living in the area, making their living from the sand sales. I would add that a 14 tonne lorry load of sand cost MK1,500, about £2.20


Unloading the sand from the 14 tonne dumper truck back on site. We had quite a few issues with it getting stuck in the loose soil with such a weight on board.


We had a tyre explode on the way back from the quarry recently which has made the university truck frustratingly unavailable at the moment for collecting foundation materials, especially as transport costs are very high here at the moment (petrol is almost comparable to the UK at MK800/L, which is about £1.20/litre). We agreed to pay for the replacement of the tyre, which the university would reimburse us for (avoiding a lengthy procurement route). We’ve had some difficulties organising the funds for the project so spent the good part of the week arranging a temporary loan from the university (so in fact they were paying for the tyre in the end). We finally had some funds available by the Friday and took the truck to the local garage for repair with the aim to make full use of this on the Saturday collecting the remaining foundation materials. Out of the blue we were then informed at 5pm on the Friday that the town sheriff had turned up and impounded the truck due to an on-going legal issue between the university and a student! The timing was just incredible, having spent the week organising the loan and replacement of the tyre. Some things you just can’t plan for. So we gave in, paid for transport hire and spent the week end at the quarry.


The damaged inner tube from the lorry tyre


The split on the tyre


Photos from the quarry


Human chain was the best way for loading the quarry rubble stones


Had to be quick with this one!

Temporary shelter

This was a quick exercise (mostly done whilst riding in the back of the lorry) for the design or a very primitive shelter – the site compound! It’s great to work with rough colourful sketches to communicate the basic principles quickly, at times to those who cannot easily understand unnecessarily complicated architectural drawings. Along with being used for shade and cooking the shelter will also act as a dry store for the treated timber, both loose and assembled, which arrives Friday 7th November.



Buying the timber at the Mzuzu timber market



The guys always try and make me sit in the cabin, but its far more fun in the truck





The site before brickwork foundations begin


I thought I would post this graph and analysis that Joe Jack Williams (FCBs London office/UCL based researcher) has produced for us based on readings from our Tinytag’s, which have been placed within the phase 1 clinic. These are small temperature measuring devices that can be set to take air temperature at a pre-programmed frequency. At the moment we have located one inside and one outside and we have them set to take readings every 30mins during a 24 hour period. We are hoping these will give us some clues as to how the exisitng building is performing and how we may improve issues such as thermal mass and ventilation in phase 2. I have included a transcript of Joe’s recent analysis bellow and will provide an update of when we have some new readings in the coming weeks.


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Firstly, it’s clear that the building is successfully ‘peak-lopping’, with the inside staying cooler than the highs experienced outside, with an average maximum temperatures difference of 3.3oC. This pattern is repeated at night, but with the building staying warmer than the outside, 2.3oC on average. This has the effect of reducing the average temperature swing over the day from the 7.6oC outside, to 4.3oC inside (during working hours of 8am to 5pm). This is indicative of the thermal mass absorbing heat throughout the day, then releasing it as the sunsets. The temperature stability and the reduced internal temperature are both important to the occupants, making the building feel cooler when they first enter, but also making it more predictable throughout the day.

There looks to be little difference between weekdays and weekends, despite the clinic being shut. The lack of difference indicates that the occupancy (and associated internal heat gains) are not driving the internal temperature rise seen through the day, but rather infiltration of the hot external air through the building fabric is pushing up the temperatures. This is also visible in the internal and external temperature peaks which are very close; the internal typically lagging less than one hour behind external temperature. Again, this reinforces the efficacy of the thermal mass, coping with the seemingly high infiltration rate, and still managing to reduce the air temperature. Hopefully this indicates that the air quality is good, but without expensive loggers it is difficult to definitively say.

Overall, the office looks to be performing very well given the extreme temperatures. If this was a school in the UK I’d be astounded; outside temperatures of 37oC and the inside still less than 32oC! Obviously very different buildings, but still impressive none-the-less.

First rain

After 6 weeks of clear skies, yesterday came the first rain of the season and when I say rain, I mean RAIN! It had clearly been leading up to this after about a week of soaring temperatures, getting well into the mid/upper 30’s. I’ll upload some graphs and commentary from our Tinytags later, which are temperature data collectors we have placed inside and outside the phase 1 clinic to understand better the daily temperature cycles and how the building’s thermal mass is performing in such a climate.

To add to the excitement I had literally just set off driving my friend’s car on the way to Mzuzu to print off some drawings (details for the metal feet for the base of timber columns, which we need to start fabricating next week). I found it slightly uncanny that the one time I was put behind the wheel of a car was in the midst of the first and most biblical torrential thunderstorm I have ever seen. I wished I had had a waterproof camera to capture the scenes. On the one hand chaos; the cycle boys literally abandoning their bikes in the now flooded gutters, people running for cover, torrents of water pouring down the streets – there’s clearly little stormwater drainage around town. Yet on the other hand, people continuing to go about their day, almost as if nothing was happening; walking along with baskets and possentions aloft, drenched to the bone, kids in tow. I parked as close to the printers as possible, mops were flying all over the place trying to stop the gushing water entering the building, and in the space of about a 3m dash for cover, I was drenched before I could make it the door. I picked up a couple of umbrellas on the way home, although i’m not sure how much good they will be!








Ekayuweni Quarry

With the excavations now complete we are ready to get started on the sub-base and foundations. This required taking the university 7tn lorry out to the quarry at Ekayuweni to collect what locals refer to as ‘Quarry rubble stones’ – what we know as sub-base hardcore, and ‘crushed quarry stones’ which is used as an aggregates to mix to any cement based layers – ie, foundation wall footings and for the main slab.

The road seemed to lead on forever and was incredibly rough up into the quarry, a bit of a rollercoaster to say the least and apparently a nightmare in the rains. However once we arrived there was hive of activity. Men and women working hard in the now baking heat, it must have been at least 34 on the thermometer. Groups of men worked together using hand tools and man power only to cut away pieces of the quarry rock, it seemed like painfully slow and hard worked. Meanwhile, the women, the wives of the men at the entrance to the quarry who try to tout to potential customers (so I was told), sit almost meditatively, rhythmically chipping away at the pieces from the main rock to either perfect 20, 40 or 100mm sized piles. Their children were with them, running around the piles playing with each other and keen to get into the photos.

Mr Kalua, my right hand man (he’s in the blue shirt), told me how they are so happy to see me, as it means they will get to eat this evening.

I did a few piles on the quarry stones, lifting in effect rocks on the end of a shovel in 34 degree heat, it was near to hell. The locals just ploughed on, but slowly, calmly, rhythmically, without taking a drop of water. I’m learning that to cope in the climate over here, especially anything remotely physical, you need to slow down, and pace yourself.