Monday, 03 August 2009

Mechanical Engineering students collaborate with Dutch university on housing design project


A group of five Mechanical Engineering students from CPUT recently collaborated with ten students from Den Haag University in the Netherlands on a project to develop new ideas for low-cost, energy-efficient housing.

The project, titled ‘Rondavelopment’ was the outcome of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between CPUT and Den Haag in February this year.

The South African and Dutch students worked together in the Netherlands at the beginning of the project for two weeks. They then separated in order to work from their home countries, but continued to interact as a group, communicating and holding group discussions via electronic media.

The final project was put together at CPUT, where the Den Haag students combined their efforts with the CPUT group, successfully completing the project over the final two weeks.

The group delivered its final presentation to a panel representing both universities on 26 June 2009.

The students used the concept of the traditional South African rondavel (circular hut) as a starting point for designing low environmental impact systems for insulation, heating, architecture, cooling, water supply, waste management, ventilation and electricity provision.

They investigated how the energy-saving properties of traditional materials used in traditional Southern African housing could be best utilised. They noted that a thatched roof provides natural insulation and proposed installing a ‘rock bed heating system,’ in which air is pumped through a rock bed, causing the rocks to temporarily retain warmth.

They also proposed using wind turbines for electricity supply, as these can be produced from recycled metal and easily assembled by the structure’s inhabitants. Ceramic water purifiers were suggested for water purification.

The MoU between CPUT and Den Haag was initiated by Mechanical Engineering Head of Department Tjaart van der Schyff and Den Haag Lecturer Prof Johan Waudstra after the two academics met in Cape Town and discovered that their institutions had similar interests in technological innovation and student development.

The MoU was then drawn up by the Office of International Affairs at CPUT who also provided accommodation and transport for the Dutch students when they visited Cape Town during the final stages of the project.

The Cape Town students’ research was supervised by Mechanical Engineering Lecturer Fareed Ismail.

Van der Schyff extended his thanks to the International Office, CPUT management and Dean of Engineering Dr Oswald Franks for their support of the project.

“The project exposed our students to international and first world education,” he said.

“It assisted with benchmarking our institution to international standards.”

Van der Schyff also noted that the experience had helped alter the perceptions of the visiting students towards universities in developing countries.

“Some of them want to return to South Africa to do their Master’s degrees,” he said.

Merle Hodges, Head of the Office of International Affairs said that as many local students are unable to travel, such ‘internationalisation at home projects’ are a tangible way to introduce internationalisation into the curriculum.

“International students are supported to enter communities by local students, who through this collaboration can participate in adapting local knowledge to suit international criteria,"" she said.

There has been interest from the Netherlands in sponsoring the building of the energy-efficient rondavels in Zambia , however, Van der Schyff noted that further research will need to be done on the initial designs before this can be achieved.

The Mechanical Engineering Department hopes that the Rondavelopment project will be the first of yearly collaborative efforts between Den Haag and CPUT.

By Ilana Abratt

Photo: Students and staff members from Den Haag University and CPUT who contributed to the Rondavelopment project.

Written by CPUT News