Langbos Children’s Shelter enables residents to be part of the construction process

PHOTO: Design Indaba
PHOTO: Design Indaba

A new children’s home in the Eastern Cape will hold a special place in the hearts of residents because they were a major part of ensuring its completion.

This is because the nongovernmental organisation (NGO) behind the construction of Langbos Children’s Shelter, Intsikelelo, made use of SuperAdobe – a form of earthbag architecture that has been implemented in low-cost settings and disaster situations across the globe.

SuperAdobe was specifically created to simplify the building process in such a way that anyone can build because it eliminates heavy, expensive equipment and hard labour.

The NGO used this approach to expand on the community centre already established by the people of Langbos. In doing so, they ensured that the solution to the lack of infrastructure in the area remained within the control of the people most affected.

The Langbos Children’s Shelter was a joint effort between 30 men and women, from teenagers to pensioners, with no prior building experience.

The Design Indaba 10x10 Low-Cost Housing Project by MMA Design Studio made use of a similar method in 2008. The Curry Stone Design Prize-winning project used a sandbag construction method to develop two-storey homes for families in one of Cape Town’s informal settlements. Leading architects spoke at Design Indaba about the value of involving the people you are building for in the process.

Co-founder of Intsikelelo Chris Grava said their approach is an attempt to do away with the “voluntourist” tendencies of international NGOs. At Langbos, they found a way to empower residents as opposed to a short-term, once-off contribution.

Beyond the physical sustainability, cost effectiveness and efficiency of the build, this project provided unskilled, unemployed residents with a means of income and equipped them with the skills to build their own low-cost housing.

Rather than hand-outs or funding, the project placed empowerment at its centre, to leave a lasting impact.

Involving the residents in the building process opened Grava’s eyes to the expectations generally held by people about those struggling through poverty.

“There is a very real and pervasive casual propaganda about impoverished people that suggests they are lazy, irresponsible, delinquent – all basically suggesting that they live in poverty because they want to or somehow deserve to,” he explains.

Some of the workers equipped themselves at a level that enabled them to construct a low-cost structure at a local school.

The team also relied on funding from local and international donors, and the public, which was made possible by a crowdfunding campaign.

While the project involved many moving parts and collaborators, Grava says this was indeed a challenge.

“Almost everyone involved understood the spirit of the project and believed in the underlying philosophy of collaboration and community empowerment.”

He says that more than anything, the home should symbolise something bigger and stand as a “monument to the power and potential of communities to overcome adversity through collaboration and impact”.

  • To get involved with the Langbos Children’s Shelter and more of what Intsikelelo is doing, visit
  • This article first appeared on
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