Something new


Diana Newton
Something new, 1977
Pen and gouache on paper
(11.7 x 8.3 inches)
(29.7 x 21 cm)

Gaborone (population of 37,300 in 1976) was very much a mix of old and new in the late 1970s. Everywhere I cycled or drove a new residential or commercial construction was underway. Modern was the way to go. And modern meant concrete block walls, (imported) corrugated iron sheeting on (imported) timber rafters (or imported prefabricated timber trusses), as in the low-cost homes built by the Botswana Housing Corporation and "self-help" projects. But the thermal performance of these modern homes was much poorer than in the case of a traditional hut, due to the lack of any insulation in the roof, the use of hollow blocks, and poor air circulation (typically, four air bricks per room). The interior was unbearably warm during the day in the hot season, and too cold at night in the cool season. Although it was politically incorrect to draw attention to government-built housing, I wanted to contribute, however modestly, to improving living conditions in rural areas where few residents could afford the imported building materials. I submitted a proposal ("Low-cost improvements to traditional rural housing") to a reputable non-governmental organization. And waited. The feedback was positive. "We'd love to hire you," I was told. "We just have to get approval from headquarters." I chose to be optimistic (when in doubt, that tends to be my choice). Disappointment followed. The problem? My Canadian citizenship. Only Batswana or U.S. citizens could be hired. C'est la vie! I moved on, literally. But I haven't lost my interest in the field of low-cost housing technologies where exciting developments abound. South Africa (with its estimated 2.2 million units of social housing backlog) seems to be in the forefront of research. The 3rd Annual Low-Cost Housing South Africa summit was held in Johannesburg in February 2013. I hope it was successful and will yield promising results.