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Resources >  Building Research Establishment Publications 

Building Research Establishment Publications: Overview

In October 1985 I was offered a position in the World Bank Project Implementation Unit as a local consultant to research various aspects of primary school design and construction.

The overall objective of the consultancy was to prepare designs for classroom buildings that could be built at minimum cost by rural communities using as far as possible local materials and building methods and my brief was to: compile an inventory of traditional building materials and techniques and develop ways of improving them; establish guidelines for the design of primary school classrooms and furniture; construct and evaluate prototype primary school buildings and furniture; plan for the in-service training of local people associated with school construction and liaise with local architects and others associated with primary school construction.

There was a complete lack of two basic buildings materials: clay and lime.  This meant that it was not possible to make fired bricks and lime and cement (or the clinker to make cement) had to be imported and were thus expensive, especially in the rural areas. My first task was therefore to develop materials and building techniques that could be used to replace fired bricks and cement (and therefore concrete blocks) and lime or reduce the amounts required for simple, rural buildings.

​I investigated the possible production and use of rice-husk ash cement (the staple food in Sierra Leone is rice which is grown in large quantities) as a replacement for ordinary Portland cement which proved not to be feasible as it required the use of lime which was not available in the country.  I experimented with the use of traditional mud blocks and stabilised-soil blocks (using both the ‘Cinva Ram’ machine that had been developed by Peace Corps and a new block-making machine, the ‘BREPAC’ machine that had been developed by the UK Building Research Establishment) for constructing walls.  I also experimented with various foundation types for all wall types ranging from traditional concrete footings to rammed stone footings.

In all of this I received great support from staff of the Building Research Establishment (BRE), particularly staff of their Overseas Division which sadly no longer exists.  David Webb who had been instrumental in the development of the BREPAC block-making machine and Ray Carroll who was an expert on sanitation in developing countries (I was developing designs for improved pit-latrines) were particularly helpful.  I managed to persuade the British High Commission in Freetown to purchase a BREPAC machine for use in the project and I visited David Webb at BRE to discuss its use.  Ray Carroll later came out to Sierra Leone to discuss progress in the development of the designs for the prototype classrooms and pit-latrines and to review the use of the BREPAC machine.  Details of the prototypes can be seen in the Projects section of this web-site under Sierra Leone, 3rd IDA Education Project.

I have copied all of the BRE publications that I have including Overseas Building Notes that contain information on: Blockwork in the Tropics; Building for Comfort; Village Water Supplies; Stabilised Soil Blocks; Sanitation for Developing Communities; Mechanical Emptying of Pit Latrines; Disposal of Domestic Effluents; Health Aspects of Latrine Construction; Alternatives to Ordinary Portland Cement; Timber in Tropical Building and Preservation of Timber for Tropical Building.  Other BRE publications include: Soakaways; Methods of Connecting Pole Timbers; Rural Sanitation for Developing Countries; Permeable Linings for Seepage Pits; Specification for Stabilised Soil Building Blocks; Report of a Visit to Sudan (by David Webb) and The Pit Latrine Upgraded.  These publications are rather old but they contain information which is still very useful and I hope that they will be of use to anyone working in a developing country context.

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