The Start Somewhere hollow concrete block and how it was developed


One of our most important projects is the Start Somewhere concrete hollow block, which was developed by Oliver von Malm with the help of PERI and the University of Innsbruck. The locally produced blocks provide the basis for our school building in Kibera and in the future, should also give the slum dwellers the opportunity to develop their own building industry

Oliver von Malm with a start somewhere hollow concrete block

After our support for two schools in Kibera with food, school materials and some renovations, the number of pupils fortunately also increased. (More about the reasons for the school building can be found here.) Due to the growing number of students, the building soon became too small. The local construction method with wood, earth and corrugated iron resulted in great heat inside and hygienic problems. The construction of a new school was the topic of our initiator and then architecture student Oliver von Malm’s master thesis. His work “Construction in a slum area” can be read here.

“I had very high standards for my master’s thesis,” says Oliver von Malm, “I didn’t just want to design a single building that would help Kiberian slum dwellers. I wanted to create an idea that would help people living in slums everywhere.”

schoolyard visualization

Before Oliver dealt with a new system, he studied the local typical construction method with clay and earth, which is especially common in rural areas. With this technique, a variety of constructions can be built with natural resources, both simple houses and impressive multi-story buildings. Compared to concrete buildings, however, this construction method has many disadvantages in terms of hygiene, safety and last but not least the risk of fire, which is very high in slums due to the dense housing plan.

stepless curves visualization

Since solid concrete blocks would be too expensive in material, the blocks were designed with thin walls and a hollow interior, which could be filled with clay and earth. Not only does this have the advantage of a solid wall as opposed to a corrugated iron wall that is at risk of burglary, but the heat does not penetrate the inside of the room as quickly. Modular construction systems have many advantages for a simple building process. However, due to the often very irregular plots of land in slums, the technology had to be more flexible. The idea of a modular block was born.

foor frames inside of a wall

At the end of the master’s thesis, a hollow concrete block was created that met the special requirements of buildings slums. Oliver von Malm subsequently received a scholarship from the University of Innsbruck to continue his research on the building system. During a presentation about his work, a first contact with PERI was made, one of the world’s largest suppliers of formwork and scaffolding systems. This contact developed into a technology partnership between PERI and Start Somewhere. Research is continued over a long period of time, until after a total of four years, a finished hollow concrete block ready for mass production is created.

Finally, the construction of the Oloo’s Children Centre could also be initiated. We bought some adjoining plots of land and immediately began with the planning of the construction. Today this construction is in full swing. You can find more information here.

bird's eye view of construction site