Friday, November 19, 2010

Very Rough "Concept Notes." I need your help!

My tall, thin, good lookin' sister asked me what I intend to do with the property I recently purchased on Lake Burera. And my chief advisor, Russell Rainey, urged me to develop and refine my vision in a "concept paper." So here is what I have down so far. I sincerely welcome your contribution of additional ideas:

General Principles:

Do good community development,… and do no harm.

Serve as a demonstration of best practices and affordable modern technologies: Harvest rain water from roof; “safe water” technologies; proper sanitation; bio-gas technology(?); energy efficient, reduced-smoke cooking; ……. much more is surely to be added here.

Train to increase local human capacity and skills.

Create jobs, paying only appropriate “market wages” to avoid disturbance of the local labor market and the corruption of future (unsustainable) expectations of other local employers.

Always treat project workers with fairness, respect, and dignity, and assure that all project supervisors and vendors do the same.

Create an idyllic garden homestead that is as fitting as possible in the local community, and yet an inviting venue for local and international guests.

Grading and excavation:

Maximize the size of  “flats” by grading two or three “wedding cake” levels.

The top level is to be the largest and serve as the home site.

The additional levels are to be as wide as possible, to maximize utility (not many narrow stairstep terraces).

There may be additional small graded patios or utility “islands,” separate from the two or three main levels. Examples: Patio near entrance to property that looks back down to Lake Ruhondo; cow and other livestock pens; water storage tank; outdoor latrine; etc. Consider prevailing winds, odors, drainage, view optimization, and environmental issues.

Maximize the “infinity pool” feel of looking over “the edge” onto Lake Burera. Take care that improvements and landscaping do not reduce the effect. How can it be maximized?

The steps from the homesite and large stone veranda should drop down a meter to the first flat of wildflowers and vegetation.

No soil should be lost or cause damage to a neighbor’s land,… only moved from high to low.

Underground root cellar, preferably entered from inside the home so that it may also be used for “secure storage” of miscellaneous items. This is a significant excavation issue.

Carefully pre-plan waste water disposal and storm drainage.

Stone (lava rock?) retaining walls are to shore up the graded levels and “built to last” for 20+ years. Fitted stonework? With cement! Allow for water to pass through! Allow for ornamental plantings within and upon the wall.

Plant TREES strategically as soon as grading and excavation is complete. Plant properly, first digging out ample hole and adding good soil and fertilizer. Plant trees for multiple hammocks.

Establish accurate, unmistakable corners and borders by attractive hardscape and permanent landscaping.

The Home

Fit in the community. Avoid ostentatiousness (as much as possible).

Garden of Eden ambiance. Large flagstone veranda. Many flowers and productive fruit trees and much greenery PROPERLY PLACED to avoid view obstruction.

Although only a single "banda," the site might be built to conform to the beauty and high standards Virunga Lodge for multiple reasons, including: Virunga Lodge is a community of great friends and I want to be a "perfect neighbor" and in no way be a blight on Praveen's spectacular creation; Virunga Lodge has created something very special from which I have much to learn; I visualize the possibility that Virunga  Lodge may occasionally make use of my home IF it meets their high standards.

Great room
2 bedrooms
1 inside porcelain flush toilet
1 outside shower, open to air and sunshine, accessible only from inside
Detached kitchen and pantry, but with covered breezeway connecting to home
Detached latrine built to Virunga Lodge's former eco-toilet standards (before recent upgrading).

Great Room (which should not exceed 4 x 5 meters) with fireplace on back wall that also passes through to the master bedroom. The Great Room opens onto the large veranda. Open beams of nice, stripped natural logs?

At least two of the walls of the Great Room will have "corner to corner" dual purpose, built-in seating/sofa beds. Presumably masonry, but perhaps built-in wood with closed storage cabinets underneath. A bit less than the width of a single bed. Well cushioned, both seats and backs. Sofa during the day, but suitable for overflow sleeping at night.

Built in Bookcases on each side of the fireplace (OR should the bookcases be in master bedroom for greater security and to avoid an ostentatious display of  possessions?)

Wood plank floor in at least the Great Room, and possibly bedrooms too. (Per Praveen.)

Underground root cellar, preferably entered from inside the home so that it may also be used for “secure storage” of miscellaneous items.

The house must be very secure, as it will undoubtedly be a very tempting target to a few. Of course, it will have a caretaker/guard, but there are many reasons why “high security” must be built into the walls, windows, doors, etc.

The site will be commonly used to teach children in the community AND host international guests for a life-changing experience. Thus, permanent masonry seating is to be designed into the development, including the horseshoe border of the large masonry veranda.

The middle of the veranda will have a round fire pit with a sittable/plateable border, surrounded by a concentric masonry bench, with a small break for passage.

Should the exterior walls of the home be built in lava rock from ground up,… from foundation to roof? What were Praveen's considerations in doing a few common buildings that way, but not the bandas?

Sheet metal roof is to be same as “Tom Phillips Guesthouse”: (1) faux tile, (2) color: terra cotta; (3) rooflines aesthetically pleasing; (4) extend over at least half of the veranda; (5) MAXIMIZE RAIN HARVEST; where possible, drain/flow to a well-placed, concealed (behind home) storage tank.

O.K., in truth, I would MUCH prefer the look of a red clay tile roof. But such tiles seem to grow some interesting elements, and I do not know what elements may actually be in the red clay. I want to harvest the best, safest water possible (for consumption). Anybody know anything about the pros and cons of painted sheet metal vs. rough red clay for harvesting safe water?

Design and build entire home to withstand high winds, especially the roof.

Should there be significant roof overhang/eaves (½ meter?) to maximize water harvest and reduce water hitting exterior walls? OR would that create too much of a “sail” for the high winds to catch and damage the roof? … Would the weight of full rain gutters at the edge of the overhang be too great? … Is it important to maximize sunshine on the exterior walls?

For both aesthetics and acoustics, the interior of the ceilings will be “carpeted “ with locally woven natural mats (as at Virunga Lodge or Republika).

As is common in the "better homes" in the region, detached kitchen with adjoining pantry/stores, but the two facilities should be separate rooms that can be locked separately.

Pipes and electrical conduit must laid out BEFORE pouring concrete. No post-pour break-outs.

Build for mosquito barriers and abatement. Screened vents. Avoid / eliminate breeding places. (Love ya, Wesley!)

Smooth, faux “Venetian plaster” inside the home?

Provide outside concrete (or porcelain or stainless) sink and tap for washing dishes and clothes,…. Not in view of veranda.

Hidden luxury. A modern porcelain, water efficient flush toilet (but also a thoughtfully placed outdoor latrine).

Hidden luxury: Outdoor shower, preferably warm water.

Masonry outdoor BBQ area, probably different than the aforementioned veranda fire pit. Suitable for frequent "goat roasts." Consider view vantage point, smoke drift, convenience to veranda and social and eating areas.

Large windows on lakeside and wherever else they are purposeful and fitting. Open to inside. Security iron on outside.

Invite Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) to advise and participate as much as they wish to be involved.