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Mobile factory turns earthquake rubble into bricks for permanent homes | Innovation

A prototype shelter from The Mobile Factory
The mobile factory

The first days and weeks after a natural disaster are devoted to human rescue. This is the part that TV cameras are drawn to – people pulled from homes destroyed by the earthquake, miraculous reunions of families separated by the tsunami. But after the cameras disappeared, a prosaic but deeply pressing problem remains: what to do with all the rubble of the destroyed buildings?

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, it took more than a year and a half just to take away half of the more than 350 million cubic feet of rubble. Rubble is not only unsightly, it also hinders reconstruction and can be hazardous to human and environmental health, as it can contain asbestos, heavy metals, and other harmful materials. And once the rubble is removed, it’s not always clear what to do with it: some can be recycled, but most ends up in landfills or huge piles.

Gerard Steijn, a Dutch sustainability consultant, had this problem in mind when he founded The mobile factory, a company that found a way to turn rubble into interlocking Lego-style bricks. This solves two problems: the need to clean up the debris and the need to create new housing for those displaced by the disaster.

“Globally, 63.5 million refugees, victims of disasters and wars, live year after year in soggy tent camps, with no hope for a future, while the source of decent and affordable housing lies around the world. ‘them,’ Steijn explains.

The mobile factory installs its equipment in two shipping containers that can easily be sent to disaster areas around the world. The equipment sorts, separates, crushes and filters the liquid concrete rubble, which is molded into stacking blocks called “Q-Brixx”. The nested nature of Q-Brixx, combined with tie rods (which can be bamboo, a cheap building material common in many countries), makes them stable, a good choice for earthquake prone areas.

Working under a commission from the European Union, The Mobile Factory built prototypes of shelters and halfway houses on its own campus. This month, they will launch a pilot project in Haiti, working with around 30 Haitian families in an area called Petit Paradis. One member of each family will partner with The Mobile Factory to learn their technique, eventually producing their own Q-Brixx house. The homes will be approximately 645 to 1,075 square feet in size, and families will receive payments during the construction process that can be used as a down payment on the purchase of the homes. Through a “rent with option to buy” system, families should be able to take full ownership of homes within a decade.

Steijn hopes to spread The Mobile Factory model by selling or renting its technology and training to international NGOs, national and local authorities and other actors involved in reconstruction efforts around the world. As they save costs on the supply chain and use homeowners’ labor for construction, each house is expected to cost less than $ 20,000, making the company’s system competitive, in terms of price. , with existing construction techniques, explains Steijn. The houses meet Dutch building standards and are able to withstand relatively severe earthquakes.

In recent times, finding innovative solutions to house refugees has become a hot topic in many design and architectural circles, spurred by the Syrian refugee crisis and a number of recent natural disasters such as the earthquake. in Nepal. There are modular shelters designed to be built by the refugees themselves. There are flat cubic shelters in plywood. There are bamboo dorms for refugee children. There have even been efforts to rebuild using rubble before – a project in Haiti built houses in pieces of rubble mixed with mortar, while a concept of a Japanese architect used rubble to fill the frames of wooden houses in Nepal.

If The Mobile Factory’s work is successful, it should create a more secure and permanent solution than many temporary shelters currently being designed. In addition, it could help to deal with a major environmental hazard. This could be good news for all those living without housing as a result of disaster or displacement, as well as for the rest of us.


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