/ 18 October 2013

Building towards a better South Africa

Building Towards A Better South Africa

The 2013 SB13 Southern Africa Conferences held in Cape Town was the sub-Sahara Africa version of the Sustainable Building conference series and provided a superb forum for researchers and practitioners to address the issues that face the built environment today.

This conference, that ran from October 15 to 16 2013 is a superb opportunity for experts to examine topics such as climate change, building urban resilience, regenerative design and development, as well as overcoming barriers to sustainable development.

The conference theme was "Creating a Resilient and Regenerative Built Environment".

The conference provided attendees with an opportunity to meet with leaders in the field and build a brighter future for Africa and the world.

The overarching theme was to examine changes to how sustainable development is to be managed and driven forward amid concerns about climate change and negotiated ecosystem services.

These issues are particularly relevant to sub-Saharan Africa, a region that is already carrying a heavy load in terms of environmental challenges and developments.

The conference addressed these concerns and examined ways in which this region could tackle the growing demand for sustainable development while simultaneously improving the standard of living.

"The annual Congress of the World Green Building Council and the South African Green Building Council Congress was also held within this time frame," says Dr Fidelis A Emuze, conference secretary.

"The SB13 2013 Conference provided an academic counterpoint to these events and the Green Building Council offered a professional audience for the demonstration of best practice within this arena."

This year the SB13 Southern Africa conference was driven through contributions and support from universities and institutions across South Africa, including the Central University of Technology (CUT).

The university has played a pivotal role in bringing the conference to life and one of the leading keynote speakers and members of the international advisory committee, Professor Alfred Ngowi, is the dean of the faculty of engineering and information technology.

Other keynote speakers included Professor Chrisna du Plessis, Dr Rodney Milford, councillor Thabo Olivier, Professor John Smallwood and Emilio Miguel Mitre.

"CUT was host to the SB13 Southern Africa conference and has worked hard to provide the attendees with a vibrant, insightful and challenging programme," says Emuze.

"The keynote speakers are of the highest calibre and we are extremely pleased that one of our own professors has been accepted to stand at the event."

Themes to be explored
Ngowi is a civil engineer, a project management expert specialising in infrastructure and project procurement, and management of contracts with local and international expertise.

He has more than 80 international and local publications under his belt and his keynote speech examined development, inclusivity and sustainability within this framework.

"I have been lecturing at both undergraduate and postgraduate level on construction and project management in general, as well as on strategic project management in particular," says Ngowi.

"The conference is a super opportunity for us to examine prevalent issues facing the built environment and to look to solutions and ideas that will carry us into the future, upholding the ideals of inclusivity and sustainability along the way."

The key points of the speech by Du Plessis covered resilience, regeneration, advances in sustainable building design and construction practice, and resilience, adaptive capacity and a co-evolutionary partnership between humans and the natural environment.

Her experience as associate professor at the department of construction economics at the University of Pretoria allowed for a dynamic and engaging analysis of these topics.

Her skills have resulted in her speaking at over 17 international conferences during the course of her career.

Moving on to the considerations of green buildings, governmental interventions and policy, strategy and South African construction, Milford offered insight and understanding into tricky topics.

He is currently the programme manager for construction industry performance at the Construction Industry Development Board and knows what is needed to ensure effective change and development within this sphere.

Smallwood explored sustainability within the context of construction worker health and safety, and examining their health and how a green building cannot be labelled as such if workers die or are disabled.

He is the professor and head at the department of construction management, programme director: MSc built environment, and a member of Construction Research Education and Training Enterprises.

Covering the global vision for sustainable building at the SB13 regional conference and the SB14 Barcelona conference was Mitre, who has more than 27 years’ experience in bioclimatic design.

Olivier is the serving elected councillor with the Mangaung Metropolitan Council in the Free State and the founder of the Qala Tala Greening Project. He examined communities, homelessness, hunger and sustainability within South Africa.

"The speakers we had at the SB13 conference are world-class," says Ngowi.

"They uphold the highest in academic standards and have years of experience and understanding behind them. We were extremely excited to hear what they have to offer the attendees and to see how they have tackled the thorny issues that they present. It was a dynamic and engaging experience that saw this year’s conference lead the way in changing thinking and inspiring solutions for a more sustainable future."

Inside the halls
The growing understanding of how climate change and rapidly declining ecosystem services affect the built environment has driven the theme for the SB13 Southern Africa conference.

There was an examination of resilience, adaptation and the ability to regenerate a thriving global social-ecological system within a set of planetary parameters that have shifted and changed.

How can the built environment meet these problems head on and what factors must be considered to do so?

"The conference looked at the particular vulnerabilities presented by this region and how we can take these challenges and use them to create solutions that are powerful, robust and unique," says Ngowi.

"We can find ways of resolving the present concerns about food and water security, job creation and collaborative communities.

"The conference pushed for greater understanding and innovation and we hope to inspire others to find solutions that can take our country, and the rest of Africa, forward into a sustainable future."

There were a number of factors that contributed to the development of the theme.

The first was the growing realisation that sustainability can no longer be exclusively defined as conserving natural capital, while improving the standards of living for both current and future generations.

Instead the reality demands resilience and adaptation. The second was the understanding that sub-Saharan Africa is vulnerable and its rapidly developing status presents an opportunity to create a new type of built environment that has the potential for positive impact on food, water, jobs and communities.

The third element is the necessity to mainstream this discussion as soon as possible before the window closes and the chance to act is gone.

The Adaptation to Climate Change session looked into the effects of climate change on urban development and infrastructure, how to design for a world that’s four degrees warmer and how to adjust green building codes to climate change.

Under Building Urban Resilience, attendees investigated how to assess risk and vulnerability within urban systems, the factors that contribute to urban resilience and institutional innovations to adaptive management.

Regenerative Design and Development undertook analysis of designing for a thriving world, rethinking assessment systems, eco-effective technologies and infrastructure and retrofitting and re-use.

The Overcoming the Barriers segment offered an in-depth assessment of topical issues that need to be addressed for a sustainable future to be possible.

Under discussion were models of cost and value, redesigning the regulatory environment, a new built environment curriculum, knowledge management, creating a green economy and fostering green jobs.

"The conference has been designed to offer all attendees with commentary that will pique their professional interest and hopefully inspire debate and academic analysis," says Emuze.

"It is only by working together that we can create a truly resilient and regenerative built environment and this event is designed to encourage best practice, understanding and collaboration with some of the finest minds in the industry."

An abstract approach
The SB13 conference included abstracts and papers that have been reviewed by members of the scientific committee and undergone a rigorous acceptance process.

They were all released as a printed book with electronic copies provided to all pre-registered attendees.

"Although several abstracts were originally received, only 50% of them resulted into accepted papers for presentation at the conference and inclusion in these proceedings".

"The reason for this is that numbers mean different things to different people and their interpretations may be misleading. To be eligible for inclusion the papers needed to have a minimum score of three out of five allocated by the peer reviewers during the final review process."

The structures under which these documents were assessed included terms such as relevance to the conference theme and objectives, originality, academic rigour, research methodology and robustness of analysis or findings, empirical research and critical current literature review.

A glimpse at some of the submitted abstracts shows that these processes have delivered some superb essays to the floor.

The abstract by SO Eromobor and DK Das from the department of civil engineering, CUT, on Dynamic Modelling Approach for Designing Sustainable Green Buildings demonstrates a very concise grasp of the issues at hand.

"The submissions that have made it through the ranks include ideas from Kenya, Nigeria, Botswana, Denmark, Tanzania and Uganda," says Ngowi. "We are extremely proud to have no less than six of these from CUT.

"Considering how rigorous the blind review proceedings were, this is a huge achievement and demonstrates our commitment to delivering a leading educational programme within the built environment."

The conference embarked on a journey that will hopefully offer solutions, insights and ideas that can herald positive change in sub-Saharan Africa within the built environment.

As academics and professionals meet to discuss the concerns that hang over the industry and seek ways in which they can use their skills to provide the people and industry on this vast continent, there was a free flow of ideas that could potentially revolutionise how the built environment tackles the future.

These ideas and solutions are not limited to the dusty plains of Africa; instead there is an opportunity to develop solutions that are sustainable and adaptable for the global stage.

"We are proud to be a part of something that has the potential to revolutionise the industry and can offer those who work within it a chance to make a difference, to come up with sustainable solutions," says Ngowi.

"Over the course of the conference we uncovered gems of insight and understanding that can be used to open important discussions and lead the way to a country and continent that forges new pathways through the global crisis.

"With this level of innovation and passion we have the potential to place the built industry at the forefront of environmental awareness and sustainability." — Tamsin Oxford

This article forms part of a supplement paid for by the Central University of Technology. Contents and photographs were supplied and signed off by the institution