Kenyan-born architect, Kevin Kimwelle uses a range of recycled materials to build new, sustainable and cost-effective constructions. This time, Kevin builds a dream home for a Gogo and her granddaughter in his community.

Kevin Kimwelle is a Kenyan-born architect who first came to Port Elizabeth to study architecture in 2004. Knowing that his life’s purpose was to give back to communities, he used his skills to go against the current of conventional mainstream architecture. By using recycled materials, Kevin’s constructions offer impoverished communities dignity and hope.

When it comes to waste collection and maintenance in South Africa, there seems to be a huge gap. Approximately 41% of households in the country go without basic waste collection services, let alone recycling services. While only 10% of waste is recycled, the other 90% ends up in landfills. Instead of wasting, Kevin repurposes materials in an effort to change the way we think about sustainability.

Kevin collects recycled and discarded materials from informal recyclers, local businesses, and the motorcar industry and reuses it to innovatively construct new designs. He explains, “If you look at Africa, there’s a lot on ingenuity in repurposing and reusing materials that just comes naturally to African people. I thought maybe I could extend this into the built environment”.

Being close to the community means that Kevin often hears of people in need, like 78-year-old Gogo Selinah Ncanywa. Selinah lives with her granddaughter, Michelle Sikhunjulwe Ncanywa, and has been looking after her since her mother passed away giving birth. The community’s elders and local church has been supporting Gogo Selinah and Michelle and identified them as a family in urgent need of Kevin’s help.

Together with a simple team of builders and with research support from both local and international universities, in partnership with local businesses and a major motorcar industry manufacturer, and with design support from India and the US, Kevin set off creating a dream home for the Ncanywas – a safe space where they can live comfortably and cost-effectively. Kevin shares, “The whole idea is to use technology to uplift one community member and hopefully it sets a precedent to possibilities in the future”.

“The challenge was creating a two-bedroomed house built from recycled wood, metal, and repurposed material”. Kevin also intends to retained Gogo’s original home which she’s lived in since 1946 by simply connecting the new structure to the old one. For Michelle, Kevin wanted to build her a private study where she can find peace and quiet to focus for her final Matric examinations.

“We’ve gone in modified and extended the original layout into something that has dignity, something that gives hope”, Kevin shares.

Gogo Selinah next to her home before renovation.

The house’s foundation is made from metal frames that were used as part of collapsible shipping containers from the motorcar industry. Big wooden boxes and pallets from the motorcar industry were also used to create the walls, laminated beams & columns. Repurposed metal forms the exterior of the house to provide waterproofing, then it’s lined with thermal insulation and recycled chipboard. Crashed recycled glass is use in the concrete of the building and bottles re-used as paving.

Kevin walks us through his construction and highlights the most interesting part of his build: “This house actually has an atrium to make use of the natural lighting. The design is meant to use very little energy; the carbon footprint is meant to be a small as possible”.

Wanting to ensure Gogo Selinah’s prosperity and to occupy her green fingers, Kevin planted a vegetable garden and a little orchard with help from donations. “There’s eight fruit trees, spring onion, spinach, and beetroot. The idea was just to make Gogo Selina a little more self-reliant now that she can grow and eat from her own garden”, explains Kevin. There is also a future plan to install rainwater tanks for a more sustainable source of water.

Kevin adds, “This mode of building is much more affordable because we’re using recycled materials. Selinah is one our first benefactors who has an almost 95% recycled building. I see a future where we will be able to see the value of waste in the building environment, especially in poor and marginalised communities where people are living in destitution”.

Once Gogo Selinah moved into her new home, her heart was filled with gratitude. She commented, “I’m very happy to have gotten this house at my age. I’m happy God sent me these people to build this house for me. Everyday I’m grateful for this house”.

Kevin demonstrates how innovative design and ideas have the power to give value and dignity to communities. Gogo Selinah and her granddaughter have a new lease on life, with a home to call their own.