Column of a material maker (21)
Published 24 January 2017 by Caroline Grellier
The first material of Termatière, a vine shoot composite, is in the hands of potential clients. While she waits for their feedback, our maker met other fans of materials to recycle in Africa.
I spent December feeling warm. Neither under my quilt, with the flu like a million French, nor in front of a chimney, to counter the cold spell of winter. My thermometer displayed a temperature that was exotic to say the least, but normal: I was in Togo, in the middle of the dry season. Following the Togo young entrepreneur forum early December, I had decided to stay and work on my prototypes begun this summer of earthen bricks reinforced with agricultural residue (banana tree, oil palm).
But since things rarely go according to plan in Togo, the aforementioned prototypes have not made much progress. Between the organization difficulties with my local partner, the Housing and construction center, and the severe gastroenteritis I contracted (well yes, for lack of the flu…), I also had to give up on help from workers at the Center, gone to fetch some earth within the country. It did not stop me from having great encounters with makers who are enthusiasts, fans of raw materials, local materials, recycling and fabrication of machines. Here are a few.
Mickaël Elom Kada-Sedobe, inventor of machines
Die-hard DIYer, Mickaël was among the finalists of the Togo young entrepreneur forum, when he presented a moped powered by solar panels. Last year, he won the competition with an ingenious brick machine, allowing to produce 14 bricks (as opposed to 2) thanks to a mechanical system relying on a simple piston to activate.
He drew his machine on a sheet of paper before prototyping it partly at his place, partly with the neighborhood scrap merchants and then lent it to workers who tested it. Mickaël is making a few improvements at the moment following the feedback from the bricklayers. And since his brain is swarming with ideas, there is little doubt that on my next trip, a new machine will be in his yard!
Kossi Assou, plastic artist designer
Designer and plastic artist Kossi Assou juggles between his two hats. I admire his rough work of the material, his aptitude to transcend wood and metal to create astonishing surfaces. In 2015, I had spoken in front of his students in architecture from EAMAU in order to initiate a debate on the status of the architect and the role of the designer in Africa. The ideas exchanged enthralled me so much that I wanted to write a thesis!
I was not disappointed: one day in is company, sharing our projects and listening to his point of views on the future of design on the continent, did not push me to write a thesis but a potential editorial project…
Olivia Linder, earth architect
Word of mouth is still what functions best in Togo. That’s how I met Olivia Linder, young architect specialized in earthen constructions. By exchanging views with her on my brick project, we discovered we had a lot in common concerning material upcycling. Olivia realized the Espace Viva architectural project (partially crowd-funded), a day care center recently opened in Lome that offers a fruit cocktail bar and activities for children, under the sign of sustainable development.
The Center, 80% built with recycled materials, is composed of three main containers. I loved watching each detail of material recycling: a floor of shoe soles (nonskid!), roofs of pallet boards, furniture made of oil cans and old tires, plastic lighting fixtures, etc.
Latevi, genius craftsman
My curious person’s eye often lingers in craftsmen’s workshops in Africa. You can observe them working on the side of the road, under a thin sheet of metal that delimits the workshop and accommodates one or two tables. Carpenters particularly fascinate me because they work wood with very few electric devices, most of the time with elbow grease. By dint of passing by the carpenter’s in my street, observing another working with his apprentices by the neighborhood traffic light, seeing the furniture exhibited by the side of the street when passing by on a motorbike, I took an interest in their way of designing furniture. These enormous objects, realized in solid wood with time-consuming wood-wood assemblies, have a limited lifespan because the harmattan, a very dry wind from Sahel that blows in December, dries up the wood, cracks it, weakens it, and they are expensive. The price of a table comes close to a month’s salary…
In collaboration with a genius craftsman who masters tapestry, carpentry, scrap iron, varnish, etc., I am therefore building a project to make cheaper furniture more simply, by experimenting padding in coco fiber, panels of banana tree leaves, weaving in kenaf!