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SA students build solar-powered, ‘kraal’ style home – for under R180,000

A team of students from Stellenbosch University (SU) and the University of Cape Town (UCT) have designed an award-winning ‘kraal’ style home which is powered entirely by solar energy and has a net zero carbon footprint.

Inspired by the uniquely African concept of a kraal – traditionally defined as a collection of structures built in circular formation around a social area in the middle – Team Mahali has reimagined this formation as a standalone home.

Team Mahali’s concept recently won first prize in the City of Cape Town and the Green Building Council South Africa's (GBCSA) design competition.

The 40sqm home, built primarily from wooden pallets and recycled steel containers, has been erected at Greenpoint Park in Cape Town.

The house features a fully kitted kitchen, with bar counters, a basin, storage cupboards and a gas stove (the only appliance which isn’t powered by the solar PV panels on the roof). Across the central kraal space is a tucked-away office area, fitted with a work desk and single bookshelf. The adjacent bathroom features a toilet, basin, and shower.

A short hallway leading from the office space connects to the bedroom, with a double bed, nightstands and three built-in cupboards.

The kitchen, office, bedroom and bathroom are all centred around an open space living room or kraal.

“The configuration of spaces in the Mahali houses around a central courtyard regulates the air and light quality within those spaces and supports reduced energy consumption,” explains SU alumnus and Mahali team member Wimbayi Kadzere, adding that designs were additionally influenced by traditional Ashanti dwellings and Moroccan ‘riads’.

“Ultimately, it encourages the wellness of occupants without the added costs of mechanical ventilation and lighting.”

The direction and flow of natural light throughout the home is another area of focus for Mahali. The pallets forming the outer layer diffuse direct sunlight, ensuring that the space remains cool on warm days. Windows in the bedroom and kitchen and bathroom allow for sufficient temperature regulation. Translucent roof sheeting, which bridge the gaps between the solar panels and container roofs, function as natural skylights illuminating the kraal.

The roof is equipped solar panels and a solar water heater which supplies warm water through a series of specialised insulated pipes.

The interior of the home is also adorned with several wall-mounted planters, which can be used to grow fresh herbs, vegetables and water-wise indigenous plants.

The total cost of the build was less than R180,000 – excluding the cost of the solar PV system which was sponsored by Rubicon SA – as stipulated by the rules of the ‘My Clean Green Home’ design contest.

“It’s net zero carbon and it’s also net zero energy, so the building and appliances are powered by energy onsite [and] the gas stove could be linked to a biogas digester,” explains Shawn Alimohammadi of Team Mahali in describing that the building structure produces no carbon emissions.

Importantly, Ethekwini, Tshwane and the Cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town have committed to the ‘C40 cities net zero carbon by 2050’ initiative which proposes that all new building should be net zero by 2030.

And while the fundamentals of this build concern issues of sustainability – with a key focus on renewable energy and zero carbon – Team Mahali understands that affordability plays a huge role in the project’s practical success, particularly within a South African context.

“It’s targeted towards medium to low-income households… and it’s not just environmental, it’s fundamentally social and we’re trying to promote the movement of the workforce into the green economy,” says Alimohammadi.


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