By RON ASHKIN
Despite all of its advantages – delivering technical durability, superior appearance, and better cost – brick is used in only about 10 percent of housing construction in Nigeria. Bricks provide serious room for market expansion, and the dearth of brick homes is a dilemma. Let us examine some of the market myths surrounding bricks.
Myth 1: Brick is “old school” and concrete block is “modern.”
Conventional wisdom associates bricks with mud, and mud houses with the village life and the bush, as both are made with red soil. On the other hand, concrete block is industrial and modern and big men, of course, want the latest thing. Architect O.A. Alagbe of Covenant University, in discussing the history of post-independence construction in Nigeria, writes that “the crave for Western building techniques led to the gradual extinction of the erstwhile earth building techniques. Thus…earth building techniques…became associated with the poor in Nigeria and not fashionable for housing purposes.”
This myth that brick is a building material that belongs in past is untrue. As we have seen from our walk through three of the world’s most prestigious city neighbourhoods, modern residential construction actually shows a high preference for brick over block.
As future-looking “green” technologies, renewable resources, and energy-saving methodologies continue to gain more acceptance and market share worldwide, low-energy, renewable-resource laterite bricks appear even more relevant in today’s market. Bricks are actually the modern, more beautiful, greener choice.
Myth 2: Bricks are difficult to use, blocks are easy
Whereas it is true that it takes more bricks than blocks to build each square meter of wall, bricks are just as easy to lay as blocks – with the proper skills training, of course. It is ironic that in today’s Nigeria, artisans who build with blocks are known as “bricklayers”, referring to the time in the past when tradesmen were trained in building walls with red bricks. Using red bricks properly is a matter of appropriate skills training, not a difficulty inherent in the bricks themselves.
The myth that bricks are difficult to use is likewise untrue. Nigerian artisans are fully capable of doing good quality brickwork; otherwise, this sells short the skills of Nigerian workers.
Myth 3: Bricks are hard to find, blocks are everywhere
This is true superficially – there are literally tens of thousands of small-scale block makers across Nigeria. Most of these block makers have modest capital investments in their manufacturing operations, and are simply responding to current market demand. They could easily convert to making bricks, should the market demand them. As pointed out above, bricks can be made locally on a small scale using raw materials found across most of the country.
The Ministry of Science and Technology’s Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute (NBRRI) has developed small scale brick making technology appropriate to Nigeria; the private firm Bolyn Constructions in Lagos, whose designs are based on German technology, manufactures and markets affordable small scale brick making equipment nationwide.
Bricks could be more widely available in Nigeria in a very short period of time should market demand be present. The investment can be modest and the materials are readily available. This myth can easily be decertified.
A Call to Action
More widespread use of bricks will not only help housing become more affordable, the construction of new homes will lead to job creation for Nigerians. Bricks present a win-win scenario. But the market can only respond if there is demand, not only from buyers of homes, but also from those designing, developing, and building homes.
What can be done to accelerate more widespread adoption of brick construction?
Prospective home buyers can express their preference for brick construction to builders, contractors, and real estate agents; Individual home builders can choose to use brick, and even make their own bricks; Architects can incorporate brick construction into their designs;
Developers can plan and market communities of affordable homes built from locally-sourced brick and; Contractors can use more brick in constructing structural elements such as walls.
More Green Technology – More Good News
More good news is that brick is not the only affordable housing material that can be sourced locally in Nigeria to drive down the cost of housing and create more jobs on construction sites and in the construction sector supply chain. For example, lumber can be seasoned in Nigeria using solar energy, eliminating the need for costly imports, and low cost roofing materials can be made from recycled plastics.
Recycled roofing tiles are already available on the market from Chartwell Industries in Lagos. These and other innovative, “green,” and future-looking technologies will help address the nation’s housing deficit in a systemic and sustainable manner. Will your next home be built of brick?