Sustainable Emerging City Unit

Experimental building using straw board as the main structural element

SECU after completion in 2013

Network Project between Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EiABC) & ETH Zurich/Singapore
Funded by DAAD – German Academic Exchange Service 2012

With the Sustainable Emerging City Unit (SECU) we explored alternatives to the existing, yet inefficient, concrete frame structures that had saturated Ethiopia’s building industry by 2012. Therefore the project team experimented with compressed agricultural fibers, more commonly known as straw board, as the principal load bearing material for an entire house (walls, floor, slab and roof). Straw board is a sustainable building material that is recycled from wheat and rice chaff.

This project aimed to establish test procedures for recycled building materials. Our ambition was to inspire new building codes for the Ethiopian building sector. SECU successfully introduced a modular housing scheme and a new, prefabricated building system to Ethiopia. In doing so, the project demonstrated that complex construction processes can be broken down into easy, understandable steps, resulting in the efficient employment of time, labor, and resources.

As an international collaboration between BU Weimar, EiABC Addis Ababa and ETH Zurich/Singapore, SECU introduced a special interlink between teaching and research. Fifteen students from EiABC worked for one semester in tandem with the research team on the design and construction details of SECU. The project incorporated student exchanges, whereby sixteen students from BUW and ETH Zurich participated in an international hands-on workshop at EiABC during the construction of the building.

Now, almost a decade since the completion of the project, subsequent observation and the evaluation of the long-term material and structural behavior of the prototype, its perseverance is proving the validity of the construction experiment as well as the teaching approach that was adopted.

Construction phase
Construction detail
Using car tire tube as a waterproof facade cladding
straw board in detail (image copyright ETHZurich)



Collaborating team:

Dirk Donath, Brook Teklehaimanot, Bernd Rudolf, Dirk Hebel, Jakob Mettler, Sarah Abdulhafiz, Helawi Sewnet, Piet Dissel, Ingo Oexmann, Timo Riechert, Stephan Schütz, Felix Heisel