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Re: GSBN: International Conference for Africa

  Dear Andy,

 Thanks for this message and as Laura said, for reminding us that what we do here in the first (over-developed) world can be of use to those in the third world. The importance of the reality that you describe is what drove my efforts to create appropriate ASTM standards for earthen materials and building systems here in the US, work which thankfully is being continued by Bruce King and the Ecological Building Network. It's crucial that we establish credibility for these alternatives here, appropriately improved where needed, so they can be seen as viable and valuable ways of building in places where they are being rejected as poverty materials or methods. This is true for straw bale, bamboo as well as other low-tech, indigenous materials. To learn to use them well and appropriately and then to take them beyond mere utility to real beauty, as the work of Bill and Athena Steen among others so well demonstrates, is where there is great power and magic in transforming what people think and believe.

 I have just written to a man I met a few years back, Ron Watermeyer, a South African civil engineer of considerable standing there, who knows about and cares about the issues you have raised. He and I gave consecutive presentations at an international conference in Washington DC in November 2003 on performance based building codes.

 My presentation was focused on these very issues and laid out the big picture reasons that we must shift our thinking when we consider risks related to buildings to the larger and more widely distributed risks we create with our codes, when focused only on the narrow slice of risk that occur at the building site and in the time of the building's existence, rather than those long-term, generalized and distributed risks to all of us resulting from the whole lifecycle of building - from acquistion of resources through the ultimate disposal, reuse, or recycling of the building at the end of its life and far beyond into the future.

 Ron's presentation followed mine and though we had never met and knew nothing of each others' point of view, was a perfect match to mine, only his was the detailed, on-the-ground version, taking virtually all of my key points and describing them in the reality of the South African situation, where there mainstream codes set thresholds far above what any of the poor could ever afford or achieve, thus screening them out of legal, decent housing. He described a two-tiered code system they were developing to help ensure that people with few financial resources could still end up in safe and decent housing.

 Taken together, the two presentations gave the big picture framework of the problem and then looked at the realities for millions of people, and laid out a framework for beginning to address these challenges. Shortly after that conference, Ron was elected President of the South African civil engineering organization and asked for a copy of my powerpoint presentation because he wanted to use some of my slides and ideas in his inaugural speech. I have not been in communication with Ron for more than a year, but I just forwarded your message to him and asked if he might be able to provide some help with this. I hope to hear back from him and will let you know what he has to say.

 By the way, you can find the report about that conference which reveals the level of impact that our two presentations had at www.ircc.gov.au/ - the website of the Inter-Jurisdictional Regulatory Collaboration Committee, an international committee of national code organizations focused on promoting performance-based building codes. I was invited to present a year ago at the IRCC's second global policy summit held on the Gold Coast of Australia, the focus of which was sustainability. I was the only presenter from the first summit invited to present at the second one and was told informally that Ron's and my presentations at the first summit led to the focus on sustainability for the second.

 There is much work to be done, but the voices of sanity are not driven off the stage everywhere. In some circles there are people in high places who understand the issues and are working for change.

 David Eisenberg

 -----Original Message-----
 From: andy@...
 To: GSBN@...
 Sent: Mon, 16 Oct 2006 4:42 PM
 Subject: GSBN: International Conference for Africa

  Dear all,
 just to say that unfortunately I would say South Africa is far from ready to
 host the next or near future SB International conference. At present there
 is no real unified network of Straw balers here....just a bunch of inspired
 individuals building inspite of all the odds. The expansion of the SB
 movement is being increasingly stymied by a tightening of inappropriate
 government/bank leglislation when it comes to building new homes in natural
 building materials (though ironically not when it comes to other types of
 buildings). With home builder pioneers being at the mainstay of the SB
 building movement, I don't see a conference being viable here until we
 overcome this hurdle..... so that SB and other forms of natural building can
 take their rightful place in addressing some of the huge inequalities we are
 faced with in this country.

 I so wish to be able to afford the cash and time to attend one of your
 conferences within the next few years.....as I would find it invaluable to
 be able to see, understand and photograph a range of quality SB buildings in
 a first world country....particularly the States.....to bring back here to

 To explain.(could write a thesis on this topic)..... Ironically most South
 Africans are not easily impressed by what is done locally, but show someone
 what is being done in a first world country and you gain almost immediate
 respect/status. Basically what you have to understand is that South Africa
 is still dogged by a 3rd world mentality (even though many parts and peoples
 of South Africa are also very much first world). Thus there is this momentum
 that drives 3rd world countries (certainly in Southern Africa) to strive for
 what the 1st world nations have achieved.and turn their backs or look down
 on what is local and what is percieved as backward or undeveloped. So when I
 show a government person an example of one of my SB buildings, they remain
 highly sceptical, that is until expalin how rich folk in America are
 building them.
 looking forward to attending a future conference
 with respect

 Andy Horn

 Eco Design Architects
 tel/fax: 07 21 4621614 / 4613198
 160 Sir Lowry Rd. Zonnebloem,
 7925, Cape Town
 South Africa


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