Preparing for Presentation of Design Concepts or “The Looming Deadline as Creative Catalyst”

Wednesday 28th – Thursday 29th July

There was no collaborative workshop on Wednesday.  I spent all-day (a solid 24 hours in fact) drawing-up concepts, researching and prototyping in readiness for a presentation of design concepts which I had promised the girls would take place at 9am, Thursday morning.  The girls were scheduled to leave the centre on Thursday afternoon to commence mobile clinics across Kenya – for them, a valuable practical experience in providing Homeopathic treatment outside the college.

I wanted to present to the whole class, five design concepts – one concept selected from each of the Design Groups – at a more advanced stage before the girls left for the weekend.  This to provide a general platform for all groups to come together and raise any comments, questions, concerns or recommendations, which would in turn inform the final development work which I would be carrying out until the girls return.

When they return to Kwale on Tuesday next week, I will present the final concepts to the girls and we will close this chapter of the DIY Kenya project with an evaluation exercise …and then I’ll probably have a little sleep!  Next stop, Maker Faire!

Design Work on Show:

So, Wednesday morning, I based myself in the shared library and adjoining classroom so that the girls could see the work progressing and get involved.  With my drawings and rudimentary prototypes spread about the place, the girls would come and look and we would occasionally discuss the direction of a design concept, confirming or tweaking it in the process.   The girls used the opportunity of a ‘non-workshop day’ to write up their thesis or to make bracelets for a large order of product from their ‘Sweet Sixteen’ shop.

As I sat there drawing in an ever increasing state of enlightenment and excitement, I was reminded of a wonderful design quote from the simply brilliant little book: 101 Things I Learned In Architecture School.

“Drawing is not simply a way of depicting a design solution; it is itself a way of learning about the problem you are trying to solve.”

Too true!

The same can be said of prototyping.  When you make the move from 2D to testing a concept by working with materials and real-world scenarios, even in a fairly basic way, further problems and insights are illuminated.  Prototypes can also communicate a lot more about design intent than pictures alone and help stimulate conversation when presented to project stakeholders.  If “a picture is says a thousand words” then perhaps a prototype ‘says’ a thousand pictures?

As the project was now in the prototype stage, I couldn’t spend all-day in the classroom:  I made a film analysing the water run-off of Makuti roofs to inform the Bamboo Guttering project.  I stopped by the Hardware store to buy some plastic sheeting and other making materials and also met with some Jiko makers in Kwale town to discuss the viability of our ‘Kwale’ Clay Jiko.  Two of the students accompanied me on a trip to harvest some ‘free’ bamboo from within Kwale town and to buy some of the most overly-ripe, blackest bananas we could find to be turned into bio fuel experiments.  The bamboo was split and the interior knots removed.  All the while, I was checking the home-made yeast-based mosquito traps which were bubbling away in my room and so far, attracting only a lot of flies!

The Night-Shift

Night fell around 7pm and around an hour later I stepped out to see the most glorious night sky I have ever witnessed.  No moon, but an expanse absolutely FULL of stars and satellites; the bright light of Venus and whisps of purple clouds from the Milky Way.  You could lie on your back, look up and almost imagine you were floating in space.  With all those far-away galaxies and the ancient light of distant stars, you had to wonder, how many more collaborative design projects are taking place out there?!  Perhaps we could work together some time…?!

A brief interlude to see one of Marie’s visiting friends and a top Jazz trumpet player perform an impromptu and improvised concert for the girls.  What a show!  The girls later sang their own songs and played drums with an improvised Jazz trumpet accompaniment.  African rhythms, choral singing and Jazz trumpet (and dancing) from Holland!  Talk about fusion!  Talk about collaboration!

And so, night.  With the chorus of chirruping insects and talkative toads to keep me company, I busily –though very happily – worked across all five projects, collating the work of the design groups to present the next morning:

(per group)

  • 2-3 alternative concepts (the ones that didn’t get picked).
  • 1 selected concept, with iterations where appropriate.
  • A photo-storyboard and/or video of the development work.
  • Prototypes and rig-work.

I cannot remember a design deadline that hasn’t involved an ‘all-nighter’ prior to presentation!  Let’s face it, nothing is ever perfect right?  There’s always something to improve or try out and I found the pressure of the deadline rather inspiring!

Thursday 9th July

9am Presentation of Design Concepts:

And so, here are some excerpts from the presentation of design concepts.  Each concept was developed collaboratively with the Kwale students in response to a local problem or concern and further designed for assembly with free or cheaply available local materials. All design concepts are intended for open-source distribution.  The distribution of each design to the Kenyan people would be through live demonstrations at public events and especially at Chief meetings ‘Baraza’ which provides the most effective source of information transfer to the rural people in Kenya

Water Group 1:

Concept 1: Anti-contaminant “River Sieve” concept (rejected)

Concept 2: Grey-water recycling system for outdoor wash houses (rejected)

Selected Concept:  “Rain-Harvesting mat”.

The need to maximise available water in Africa is profound.  There are typically two ‘rainy’ season per year in Kenya.  Still, much of the rainfall around a typical housing is lost as there are few rain harvesting measures in place.   The impetus for this concept was “How can we collect the maximum amount of rainfall over a large area without investing in expensive systems or permanent fixtures?”

Though still in development, this mat will be made from cheaply available materials and assembled by hand with only basic skills.  It can be unfurled whenever rain occurs to collect rainfall over a large expanse.  After the rain, the mat can be articulated in such a way (likely a draw-string method) as to draw the water into the centre and to form a ‘bag’ for carrying the water to storage.

The mat does not rely on any nearby structures to erect and therefore can be sited away from the compound to better utilise flat or available ground.

This image shows the concept at an early stage of development!

Early prototypes:

Water Group 2:

Concept 1: Manually-powered pump for distance water carriage. (rejected)

Concept 2: Water Harvesting from condensation of trees and vegetation. (rejected)

Selected Concept: “Bamboo Guttering System”

(Apologies, I didn’t have time to re-draw the picture above and so you have the scrappy version here complete with my self-notes you were never supposed to see.  At least it lends an insight into my design thinking.  Further apologies should you spot my rather ungracious round-roof comment!)

Some Kenyan households utilise expensive guttering with metal roofs in order to harvest water.  Many rural houses in Kwale however have ‘Mukuti’ roofs made from wooden beams and coconut leaf thatching, but no guttering system.  This is a wasted opportunity considering the expanse and water-gathering potential of many of these roofs.

Our simple concept was to utilise hollowed-out bamboo canes of sufficient maturity (diameter) to capture the water run-off from these roofs.  Guttering will be made from canes split in half whilst whole canes will act as down-pipes. The interior knots will be removed and scraped flush to avoid pooling of water and the guttering will be hung at a slight incline to allow water to flow.  The bamboo can be treated with beeswax to preserve its life.

Our design can be retro-fitted to most Mukuti roofs by tying extension poles made of Sisol or locally-harvested wood.  The collected water will be channeled to a storage tank or open well via subterranean pipes constructed of whole bamboo canes or half pipes at the surface of the ground, which will allow for easy maintenance and fault identification.

The collected water will be filtered for use utilising organic methods.

Bamboo Halves for prototype:

Fuel Group 1:

Concept 1: “Mystery Kwale fuel”

Admittedly, we didn’t have many clearly-defined concepts.  We knew we wanted to utilise waste material common to Kwale households as a fuel for cooking and heat.  We discussed what waste materials were most commonly available in Kwale: coconut trees, maize husks, banana trees, animal manure, ash, wood, plastics and paper.  We then carried out internet research – slowly, due to connection – as a means of developing our concept.

Selected Concept: “Kwale Banana Fuel Press”

Our research hit upon a bio-fuel made chiefly from banana waste which could be used as an effective alternative to charcoal.  Check out University of Nottingham’s Joel Chaney’s story about how he developed banana briquettes for fuel:

Kwale is full of banana trees, as is much of Kenya and so this research seemed to point to a pertinent solution.  Once the fruit has been eaten, the peel, indeed, the whole plant and leaves can be pulped, dried, mixed with sawdust or dried leaves and turned into fuel.

In order to make this a truly Kwale-based innovation, the design group developed a briquette press, a handmade tool that allows for quick, easy and efficient production of consistently shaped bio fuel ‘ring-shaped’ briquettes.  The ring allows for a more efficient burn as hot air is drawn through the centre hole.  The hole also allows for quicker drying of the fuel after it has been pressed.

The press is made from the red clay which is common to the Kwale region and traditionally used for the manufacture of ‘Chungu’ cooking pots.  Unlike other bio-matter fuels, the banana fuel does not require great force to successfully compress and bind the slurry into briquettes.  The hardened clay formers will allow the user a good purchase to provide sufficient force to form a large quantity of briquettes in a short time.

The press design also incorporates two outlets for liquid as the slurry is being pressed in the mould.

Because the tool allows for easy batch production, the user could make a surplus of ‘Kwale bio fuel’ to sell.

Prototype: 1:1 Scale Plasticine Model

Fuel Group 2:

Concept 1:  “Kwale Mystery Stove!”

Again, we had decided we wanted to make a ‘Kwale’ stove that would tackle the fuel problem, but we had no firm concept.  We talked about how we might maximise the heat by stacking cooking pots or otherwise spreading heat from one fuel source to a wider area.  There was also mention of a bamboo smoke diverter to channel the nuisance smoke outside the house…

Selected Concept: “Kwale Clay Jiko Stove”

Taking influence from the ‘rocket stove’ we developed a two-piece ‘Jiko’ cooking stove made from local clay.

As the diagram illustrates, the user takes a piece of fire wood, lit at one end, and places it burning-end-first into the large opening.  The air intake holes at the base of the unit ensure a constant inward draft to fan the flames which in turn, provides a more efficient flame.  The hot air is carried directly upward, through the stout round chimney of the ‘Kwale Jiko’ stove and hits the base of the cooking pot.  Three exit slots at the top of the stove allow hot air to escape and spread across the base and sides of the pot.  As the wood burns, the user simply pushes it further into the opening to ensure the fire is directly beneath the pot.

The ash from the burnt fuel can be easily removed by lifting the stove (once it has cooled) to reveal a separate ceramic footplate which can be used to carry the ash.  The collected ash can be recycled for the creation of bio fuels or even as a water filtration agent.  This is an improvement on many existing Kenyan Jikos which research suggested are very difficult to clean of ash.

The pot has been designed to be portable but can also be sited semi-permanently by packing clay/mud/stones around it to improve heat retention, safety and aesthetic.

The pot is made from 100% clay and can be recycled.

Prototype: 1:1 Scale Card model

Malaria Group:

Concepts: Deluxe ‘Lifetime’ Mosquito Net; Mosquito Repair Kits/Social Initiative; Clockwork Mosquito Repellant, Family Planning for Mosquitos. (rejected)

Selected Concept:  100% Natural “Kwale Mosquito Trap”

The “Kwale Mosquito Trap” can be made very cheaply from 100% natural materials.  Its construction takes influence from the traditional Kenyan ‘Chungu’ cooking pots which are hand-made from local clay.

There are several variations on the design of this trap but essentially, the trap consists a clay vessel with a small opening just big enough for a mosquito to enter.  Inside the pot is a mixture of warm water, brown sugar and yeast which releases a CO2 vapour that is said to be irresistible to mosquitos.  The mosquitos fly in through the narrow opening but due to the conical shape of the interior and the narrow egress, cannot easily fly out again.  the mosquitos will eventually drown in the liquid solution.  Alternatively, the fermented alcohol of the coconut tree, which is very commonly taken in Kenya, can be used as a substitute to the yeast/sugar solution.

The traps should be placed around the house, particularly in the bedroom at night when mosquitos typically bite in the early hours of the morning.

The ‘lid’ of the trap can be removed to check that it is working and to allow cleaning and re-filling.

Prototype: 1:1 Scale Plasticine and Chungu pot prototype

The presentation was a great success.  The girls enjoyed seeing their ideas a little further toward realization and delighted in critiquing the work of the other (rival?) design groups.  The ceramic Jiko project in particular was awarded a round of applause after presentation of the final concept and card prototype.  An open discussion followed and some suggestions were made for further development and tweaking of ideas.

‘Jiko Man’

Just before the girls departed for their mobile clinics, we arranged to meet with a local Jiko stove maker who came to the centre and after looking at the prototype and drawings, agreed to make our ceramic Jiko for us, on-site over the weekend.  Great!  The ultimate test!  I forgot to ask at the time, but I will try to persuade him to provide some extra clay for our Fuel Press and Mosquito Trap when he returns on Saturday morning.

I couldn’t help myself, with the girls gone and a new quiet descending over the compound, I crashed asleep at around lunchtime and slept solidly and peacefully until 6 this morning.

Nafurahi sana!

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4 Responses to Preparing for Presentation of Design Concepts or “The Looming Deadline as Creative Catalyst”

  1. Amelia says:

    This is so exciting all your hard work, imagination and enthusiasm blossoming so abundantly! I have shown Jemima and Olivia your blog (really late in Jemima’s house in London where we stayed), we love the drawings and the very talkative delightful tone. You are amazing, well done well done, be careful in Nairobi and have a remarkable time! Jemima is going to tell Derek about your beautiful blog so you have even more followers.

  2. Amelia says:

    Wow definitely worth the five hours it took to upload! Olivia and Jemima think it is s splendiferous blog too, not a purple pimm in sight, so abundant and the projects are really blossoming, well done well done! be careful in Nairobi, I hope the Jiko man visit went well this morn. Your drawings are so delightful. Beaming with pride!

  3. Amelia says:

    oops! I thought the first comment didn’t work, what a noodle!

  4. saranya says:

    u people done a good job ……………………

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