Birth of a Social Enterprise Part 2 –Sparks, Dust and Recipes

In the final quarter of 2015, we partnered with a great organization called “Rusty Fundi”. Jonathan, the proprietor, has a cool workshop in Nairobi where he makes unique and amazing custom furniture out of recycled timber and metal – check out his website when you have read this blog (Rusty Fundi).

Not only that, he also does other light “engineering” and metalwork design and production. Stained glass window frames are his latest. There was one 5m wide on the floor of his workshop one time we visited – amazing stuff!

Jonathan is also a whiz on the computer design side and very creative. This, importantly, is combined with a practical mind that greatly helped in the development of the mold design and keeping things simple, avoiding too many mold/component types. We will be building in challenging environments, access to sites will preclude vehicle use for the final kilometer in most cases, etc. We will also be using unskilled and semi-skilled labour. All of this needed to be taken into consideration to ensure we can deliver the safer, secure homes of Kwangu-Kwako quickly and efficiently.

We needed to be able to build a single, free standing one room house, a row of houses as usually found in slum compounds, a toilet, a multi-room house, all from as few components as possible. Keepingthe number of panel variants to a minimum was challenging. The advantage of computer design is that you can iterate and perfect designs a lot before actually making anything. This was a huge advantage as we kept coming up against challenges and concerns about:

  • Strength of the joints
  • Durability of the panels
  • How to achieve the interlocking?
  • Ability to interlock accurately
  • Could we make that level of accuracy?
  • And many more…..

Finally, after many late nights and much coffee, we had the panel sizing bottomed out and the various combinations of building type dealt with,all that was left was understanding the best jointing/interlocking method. We had a few options but, now the only way forward was to make them.

Next, there was an intense period of cutting, grinding, bolting, cutting again, welding, casting concrete,head scratching, changing the “recipe”, testing and even breaking slabs, more head scratching, shaking, dropping and “bouncing” on the panels, cutting and welding again, more casting etc, etc.

Working with the Rusty Fundi team of 3 great guys was fantastic. All of them live in the informal settlement adjacent to Industrial Area on the east side of Nairobi. Their passion to help us make this work and their ideas and suggestions were a great help. These insights about some of the less obvious nuances about the houses in the community and the reality of living in them were an inspiration. Most importantly Patrick with his permanent beaming smile (despite much provocation) was a joy to work with.

Hey, They Fit Together!!
Hey, They Fit Together!!

A big thanks to Jonathan for his creativity, skill, wise words and unwavering patience during this time. The Rusty Fundi team (Rusty Fundi) were also stars, especially the ever smiling Patrick.

13 test panels and around 8 weeks later we had it nailed – Phew!

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