Ecologically constructed hospice buildings at Tapologo hospice in South Africa

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The team at Tapologo hospice used mud from the property to construct bricks for the construction of the hospice buildings, and installed an innovative air-conditioning system to regulate the temperature within the building, while at the same time reducing the presence of pathogens in the air of the hospice buildings.

Stephen Blakeman, the General Manager at Tapologo, said that the team were guided by two main principles in their decision to use ecological construction methods, namely: to ensure that the buildings were seen as “friendly to the community and patients that we were going to be engaging”, and that they did not convey a message of institutional, and that the buildings had as low a running cost as possible.

The cost of the initial building was comparable to what it would have been had conventional building methods been used, Mr Blakeman said, but he attributed these relatively high costs to the fact that the team was essentially pioneering the use of these construction methods.

“We had to “rediscover” this method of building. We had to conduct extensive research and experiment a lot. We had to convince the municipality that we could do it. But once the first building had been finished, the following buildings were much cheaper to construct than if we had used conventional methods” said Mr Blakeman.

The team recognised the need in the local community for a hospice in-patient unit, as “people were dying at home, in very bad conditions”.

As one member of the team had a background in ecological construction, environmental principles were used in the construction of first the In-Patient Unit and then three more buildings at Tapologo hospice.

The use of materials from the building site reduced the embedded energy (definition) contained in the construction materials, and thereby reducing their impact on the environment.

As well as using ecological methods in sourcing the building materials for the in-patient units, the team at Tapologo used an ancient method of ventilation/ air-conditioning, piping air through the cool soil about 2 metres underground, to enter the building at ground level, with the existing air exiting through vents at the top of the building.

This method ensures that moves the air vertically, as opposed to conventional air-conditioning systems and fans which mix or recirculate the air. This vertical movement (of clean air in-old air out) ensures that the pathogens are constantly being removed from the building.

This method was most common in the Middle East and is the inverse of what is known in Europe as “geothermal heating”. As the heat builds up in the building, the hot air escapes through the top vents, and fresh, cool air is drawn in through openings at floor level. These openings are connected to underground pipes, which open into towers a short distance from the building.

The buildings keep a year-round ambient temperature of around 20 degrees Celsius. The ground temperature is used to condition the air, and the principle of “hot air rises” ensures that pathogens exit the building vertically, instead of being mixed around by a fan or a conventional air conditioner.

When asked whether these pipes were complicated to install, Mr Blakeman replied: “No, it was very simple, just like laying the pipes for ordinary plumbing”.

The team at Tapologo “would love to encourage people to use this method of building”.

Mr Blakeman said that the team at Tapologo would be happy for interested pa rties to contact them, to discuss the practicalities of implementing these methods in the construction of hospice buildings, such as how to use local soil to make bricks, how to perform tests on the soil, how to make the actual bricks.

Stephen Blakeman can be contacted on sblakem@mweb.co.za for advice on replicating this method.

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