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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Philippine Construction

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Philippine Construction: Seperating the Men from the Boys

When talking about house construction in the Philippines we tend to go 'Technical'; the process of Design is behind us and now it is time to talk about cement, concrete and steel.
The real thing. Seperating the Men from the Boys.

Lets start with Hollow Blocks. (see picture up)
In Philippines Construction probably 99% of all residential- and commercial buildings are made with hollow blocks. You only need sand and gravel from the nearest river, cement from the nearest factory and steel bars from the nearest hardware store. Ample available and thus the obvious choice to use for building.

First they form the columns (posts) by pouring concrete (sand + cement + gravel + water) between forms (mostly made out of plywood) where steel bars (reinforcement or 'rebar') are placed. When the concrete Philippine construction is dry enough, the forms are removed and what is left are 'steel-reinforced' concrete columns that can carry the next floors and the roof.
Between the columns they slowly build up the walls out of hollow bricks by simply stacking- and glueing them together with mortar (sand + cement + water) and again reinforce with steel bars.
(Note that the walls can not carry the next floor or the roof! The columns do that.)

Building with hollow blocks is still the cheapest way of construction here and since they use it also for 20-storey buildings it have to be a good option obviously...or is it..?

Let's do some critics...
Most hollow blocks are made litterly in someones backyard as a family business where they have a few wooden forms in which they pour concrete to dry.
They should use a certain minimum amount of cement (expensive) to make a strong hollow block. Better start praying. I remember lifting a hollow block from the ground and it broke in my hands; thats how brittle they can be.
Lesson #1: buy hollow blocks only when they are ready and you can test a few of them; are they brittle then go to the next shop, there are enough of them. Do not order them; you have no idea what you will get.

Walls that are made with hollow blocks have to be covered with a seperate layer of a cement-sand mix (rendering or plaster) without steel bar reinforcement; it easily peels of or cracks when not done correct. The cracks let raining-water through that might even reach the steel bars in the wall and that means Rust.
Again the same story; when the contractor not uses enough cement (expensive), be prepared for some disappointments.
Lesson #2: ...I have no idea actualy how to improve this, do you?
Look around you here at the buildings; mostly the outside walls have cracks in the plaster; it almost seems normal.
Plaster is labor-intensive and time-consuming, even redundant and unnecesary when you see the next technologies; you don't need to plaster.

While hollow blocks are used for generations here it doesn't mean we shouldn't look at other possibilities.
Construction Technology has made huge advances and it can't hurt to look at a few of them.

I interviewed 7 construction companies in the Philippines (Cebu, Manila etc.), each specialized in a specific building method; they build nationwide because no other contractor offers the construction technologies as far as I know, here they are:

Latest technology in construction in the Philippines:

Light Weight Concrete
Prefabricated Houses
Modular Ferro Concrete
Green Building ECO House
Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (AAC)
Steel Frame Houses

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