April 11, 2023
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Prototype wooden homes for Zanzibar built in record time

The boss followed his nose. “Doesn’t the wood just smell amazing”, Sebastian Dietzold couldn’t help noticing when visiting the construction of new “Vizazi” homes in Fumba Town. Vizazi – meaning generations in Swahili – is an all-wooden approach to modern building, an ultra-ecological way of construction. One of the many advantages: prefab wood houses are mounted in no time, a huge plus for Zanzibar where disruptions in supply chains have caused substantial delays in the building industry in the past.

Fumba Town, the new eco settlement being built just outside Zanzibar City, already has a good number of timber bungalows alongside conventional stone houses. But the three-storey Vizazi homes, a modern version of Victorian row houses entirely made of cross-laminated timber (CLT), are still pioneering ground, a test-run for the next, hugely ambitious project to be realised here, the world’s highest timber apartment building, the Burj Zanzibar with 28 floors. Thus it became almost a competition, a race against time on the construction ground when the first block of four Vizazi row houses was started in December. The race was won: the outer shell was successfully completed exactly seven weeks later in January.

Concrete foundation

“Building with prefab timber feels like LEGO or a 3D-puzzle”, commented architect Leander Moons, a Dutch professional practising in New York and main designer of Fumba Town, “every element has to find its exact place.” Week No.1 began with preparing the concrete foundation to hold the wooden wall elements for the first block of four houses with six living units. The concrete base is the only conventional part of the whole building. International TV teams were filming the new African venture.

Present on the site, carefully watching the process, was engineer Wolfgang Hebenstreit of Binderholz, one of the world’s largest and most renowned mass timbers manufacturers. The Austrian company has been contracted as one of the suppliers for Fumba’s wooden ambitions. For now, prefab timber parts are imported from Europe. In the future Tanzania is expected to expand its own re-growable wood plantations as well as production facilities.

“Wood cultivation can create many jobs in Tanzania”, said Thomas Just, timber expert and Volks.house company owner in Fumba Town. His carpentry factory located right on the Fumba peninsula employs more than hundred workers and has trained almost 200 carpenters and builders – a whole new and much-needed industry for Zanzibar. Lifting entire walls

Week 2 to 5 on the Vizazi construction site saw an 18-metre-crane and human muscles lift, fit and adjust entire wall panels, stairs and window frames. Walls are pre-fitted with electric installations and water piping in the Volks.house company. At night the lego-style building went to sleep under huge plastic canvasses to prevent rain pouring in. “Wood should not lay open during the construction”, Just explained.

Timber buildings are more healthy – for the environment and their inhabitants. Building with cement and steel causes 1/3 of all CO2 emissions worldwide. From outside, the Vizazi homes, with huge panoramic windows and private terraces, will not look like wooden log cabins at all. White cement fibre board will cover the timber.

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