Building houses for the future

Wednesday September 22 2021
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Renewable energy, water harvesting and recycling are key for modern housing. PHOTO/Abubaker Lubowa

By Roland D. Nasasira

The artistic impression of Habitat 854, a condominium type of housing under construction at Kulambiro, a Kampala suburb shows that the two blocks will have duplexes. A duplex is simply one floor of a condominium built with the lower and upper level, with a staircase that takes you to the upper house. 

854 is the plot number where the structure is located. It is on a slanting landscape overlooking the Kampala Northern Bypass. Its architectural plan is designed according to the shape and nature of the land, and can only be built in the plot number, without disrupting the tranquil local landscape. The height of the building will be reduced to avoid overpowering the surrounding property and community, making the property uniquely customised to the Kulambiro environment, including recycling the water that will be used at the facility.

Huzaifa Chawhwala, the Chief Executive Officer of Aesthetic Developers argues that any modern kind of construction is one whose features cater for the future, including studying the climate of the area. It should be noted that Uganda has an average temperature of 25º C throughout the year. What is important for any present and future developer is to capitalise on the weather itself and other factors. 

“The reason why some rooms are hot and others are cold in the same house is because of the materials used. When you use materials such as concrete blocks, glass and maxi pans, the building tends to overheat. We studied the sun’s movements and the location of shades is where the windows are positioned to promote natural undulation. Balconies are placed where there is sunlight and the floors are solid concrete slabs and not maxipans,” Chawhwala explains.

Changing housing trends

Growing up, Davis Turyamureeba says his parents’ and most of his relatives’ houses were those built from mud and wattle and roofed with iron sheets while others were grass-thatched. Much later, houses with French roofs came up before they were replaced with V-shaped roofs, either in square, rectangle or circular shapes. V-shaped roofed houses, Turyamureeba says, were costly to build because they consumed a lot of timber, much as they came with beauty. 

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Fast-forward, much as condominiums have not yet been fully embraced by many in Uganda, Turyamureeba says it is not debatable that they (condominiums) are part of the housing future. Now working in Uganda, he draws examples from Rwanda and Kenya where he worked for 15 and five years respectively, to determine how the housing development in Uganda will take shape. In the two countries, Turyamureeba says the takeoff for condominiums was quite slow until the middle class population started to rise.

“People are now expanding vertically because of increased pressure on land. The increasing numbers of the middle class who want to live near good roads and best services is starting to set pace for condominiums. This category (middle class) of people do not want to live far from towns or even look for land 50km away from the city centre to build and will adapt to condominiums. The same is slowly happening in Uganda because the middle class population is increasing yet the size of land is the same. Any property investor has to take condominiums into consideration,” Turyamureeba argues. 

Samuel Mukasa, a real estate enthusiast agrees with Turyamureeba, opining that much as urban dwellers are starting to yearn for condominiums, property developers should strive to expand vertically but in a way that keeps and maintains the beauty of the environment, and above all, access to natural light for the condominiums especially for urban areas. Instead of buying land, home owners will be buying space on already built flats for expansion. 

“A well-built and beautiful condominium that lets in natural air and light will fetch a high price compared to one that is built so close to another like Kampala arcades that have no breathing space. It even compromises privacy. And regardless of whether it is a bungalow or condominium, build a house bearing in mind that someone of advanced age will use it after you. Build it in a multigenerational way,” Mukasa explains.

Reducing utility bills

When it comes to home basic necessities such as water, Turyamureeba advises that you look at multiple sources of water such as installing boreholes in your compound because it is cheaper compared to water you pay for monthly. 

Mukasa weighs in about the matter, reasoning that plans of harvesting rain water shouldn’t miss in your construction plans because it is one sure way of reducing or avoiding utility costs.

“It will cost you money to build a water storage and recyclable system but it is a one-time cost and cheaper if you compute the monthly water bills to foot over time. Besides, national water grids are sometimes not reliable compared to one you can monitor yourself,” Mukasa explains.

“Think of renewable energy and water harvesting and recycling. After using water for washing, it should be recyclable for watering the garden or any other domestic chores,” Turyamureeba says. 

With electricity, Turyamureeba and Mukasa advise that you prioritise solar energy over hydroelectric power because the latter comes with monthly or weekly costs depending on usage, which seems impossible to run away from.

“The government has in some places and regions failed to provide its citizens with accessible, reliable and affordable power sources. The only reliable solution is solar energy that you can generate and store yourself,” Turyamureeba says. 

Because of constant change of housing tastes, most people are no longer building mere homes but rather those that are fitted with modern furniture and the only move into their houses with their clothes, says Rose Nabwire, a landlord in Kyanja.

“If you live in a house for more than 10 years, there is a high likelihood you will want to shift into another and sell or rent the old one. If your tastes change over time, build a home to live in for a short time and sell or rent it off when you get tired of it,” Nabwire advises.

The trends

Home owners who had houses in suburbs such as Muyenga and Ntinda 10 or more years ago have moved away because their homes have been turned into apartments or office spaces to let. They have built on the outskirts of Kampala, which could primarily be for fresh air, bigger spaces and peaceful and quiet environments.

“People are starting to carry out other activities such as home gardening in their homes. As people age and as times change, you will want to move away from cities and towns because you can access public services from other places. Start viewing where you are staying today as a place that will at one point develop into a town and the inconvenience it comes with and plan to establish your home out of town,”  Turyamureeba advises.     

Gone are the days when you built big country homes with every child having their own room. However, the current generation of children are not the kind who want to live or stay in the village, longer. This should inform the type and size of country home to build. Even then, children become independent as they grow and start their own families and you find yourself in a big country home alone.

“The country home you build should be small because of family planning. People no longer giving bear many children. You cannot build a house with six bedrooms yet you have three children. Build a multipurpose country home whose rooms you can easily partition into small rooms as guestrooms. It could be for friends with whom you visit the home for a weekend and drive back to town for work unlike olden days where you spent two weeks in the village,” Mukasa advises.

There is also a growing trend in which homeowners no longer spend holidays at country homes and prefer to travel elsewhere for holidays, and sometimes out of the country. This also informs the size of the house to build.  

Changing work environment

It is no secret that most office spaces are moving away from major towns and spreading out to city suburbs. This, according to Turyamureeba, is because employment is now not only in the city centre but also spreading to other areas.

“If I live in Kiwatule and my office is a stone throw from my home, I don’t need to come to Kampala City for work. If I am a teacher, I will find a school near my home to reduce expenses,” Turyamureeba says.

Turyamureeba blames the changing office environment to increased pressure on and demand for land. Besides, physical office space will also reduce because people are adapting to virtual offices and working at their convenience.

The other aspect should be planning for better cooking methods. In rural areas, you should adapt eco-friendly methods such as use of energy saving stoves that use very little charcoal and firewood. For urban areas, cooking gas will be the order of the day. 

The case of functional homes

You may wish to invest in a farm house. However, the fact that land in most Ugandan town and city suburbs is becoming small every other day, meaning you will have to look elsewhere because farm houses normally require big spaces.

“In future, farm houses will become the order of the day just like in Europe. You will need a farm house where friends and other people visit to learn about home farming at a fee. You could even put up a few self-contained rooms to serve as guest houses for visitors or tourists to generate some money,” Nabwire advises. 

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