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Clay brick wall construction is long proven as the common denominator when providing truly sustainable, superior performing infrastructure across South Africa at the lowest lifetime cost. 

Notwithstanding this, CSIR Built Environment division is recommending that Innovative Building Technologies or IBTs, the new euphemism for Alternate Building Technologies or ABTs, should replace clay brick construction for future infrastructure buildings. This change is based on the assertion that prefabricated and fabricated ABTs offer "significant savings in energy and life-time costs of ownership" (Refer Built Magazine article 'LSFB gets the green light from government').

Dr Llewellyn Van Wyk, CSIR Principal Researcher Building Science and Technology Department is quoted as saying: "Of the 40 systems that have been identified for use in the construction of schools, 32 of them perform better (generally) than conventional buildings" (refer Walls&Roofs Journal 4 June 2014). 

The Clay Brick Association of South Africa takes a closer look at five of these supposedly superior performing alternate building systems for school construction, these schools built and handed over during the past three years, and compares them with five clay brick schools built and handed over in the same period, to establish the validity of the CSIR's pronouncements in favour of ABTs.

The five randomly selected ABT schools visited, inspected, and in a number of instances their performance in delivering a superior learning environment discussed with both headmasters and users, included:

Goodhope SSS - Eastern Cape

Lotus Gardens PS- Tshwane

Gulandoda JPS - Eastern Cape

Olivenhoutsbosch PS - Gauteng

Phakamani SSS - Eastern Cape

The five randomly selected clay brick schools inspected included:

Chief Albert Luthuli PS - Gauteng

Heideveld PS - Western Cape

Bongolethu PS - Western Cape

Noordwyk SS - Gauteng

Lucingweni JSS - Eastern Cape

The pictures below present the typical cracking and disrepair found widely prevalent on the exterior and interior walls of all five ABT schools handed over for occupation. On the evidence, the ABTs will assure an uncalled for high lifetime maintenance cost burden on the fiscus.  

    Olivenhoutbosch PS - Random cracking within and between facade panels.

    Pakamani SSS - Extensive vertical  and horizontal cracking.

Showcase 2 - Olivenhoutbosch & Lotus Gardens      

    Gulandoda JPS - Wall panel separation evident above window height.

    Lotus Gardens PS - Differential movement cracks widely evident on external walls.

Compare the ABT walls above to those of the clay brick walled schools below, built and handed over during the same period, the clay brick walls performing with all due efficiency, showing none of the disrepair as evident on the ABT schools to define a comparably much lower lifetime cost.  

    Chief Albert Luthuli PS - Clay brick classroom buildings still look like new.  

    Bongolethu PS - Internal Assembly and Sports Hall's clay brick defines the high quality and enduring attributes of this space.

Showcase 2  (Chief Albert Luthuli and Noordwyk)   

    Heideveld PS - Structural integrity with enduring good looks. 

    Noordwyk SS - No evidence of any maintenance requirements now or tomorrow.

While these pictures tell their own story the superior quality and feel of the brick schools over the ABT schools was palpable.

From a first cost and speed of construction perspective the new 'greenfield' schools designed to accommodate 850 learners - Chief Albert Luthuli PS and Noordwyk SS - were constructed within budget and handed over in 6 and 8 months respectively, this at a faster rate than the ABT schools - Olivenhoutsbosch PS and Lotus Gardens PS. With masonry materials so accessible and brick construction so cost competitive and widely applied throughout South Africa, the well-founded socio-economic reasons for brick construction become compounded through the broader employment and skills development opportunity that brick construction provides within those communities where schools and infrastructure building takes place. 

Then there are the day time thermal comfort reasons. Unlike the clay brick walled schools, the insulated lightweight walls applied to the ABTs demonstrated no propensity to self-regulate, the heat flux on the inside coinciding with the hottest parts of the day outside. The resultant 'hotbox' conditions as experienced provided decidedly inefficient teaching and learning environments for large parts of the school day. This was particularly evident in the case of prefabricated ABT caravan type classroom accommodation below that had been placed on the Chief Albert Luthuli new brick school site to help accommodate the influx of extra learners from the surrounding areas.       

    Prefab classrooms presented as the worst of the learning environments experienced.

    Prefab classrooms presented as soulless basic shelter reducing learners to second class citizens.

What became very apparent during the inspection was the disconnection between the 'performance-promise' inferred by Agrement certification and the true performance of these Agrement certificated ABTs [IBTs] under real world conditions. 

On the evidence of the 10 schools reviewed under real world conditions, the ABT finished products presented a compromise to basic Clay Brick wall construction's comprehensive basket of performance attributes and sustainability benefits. The clay brick schools cost effectively provided safe and secure, unquestionably superior quality built environments for teachers to teach and scholars to learn, study and play. It would be wise for those responsible for advocating ABTs over clay brick construction for infrastructure buildings - schools in this case - to go, see, and compare for themselves.