( 2015 )
Thousands of South Africans are displaced, injured or killed in 'shack fires' every year. These families come from low-income households and live in informal housing, often referred to as "Shacks" in the South African context. These structures are fabricated primarily from scavenged materials, such as zinc roof sheeting and cardboard, and offer little protection from the elements. Portable paraffin stoves are the primary source of heat and are also used for cooking inside the dwellings. These stoves are prone to falling and, if left unattended, are the cause of a large percentage of the fires that ravage these communities. Due to the high population density of these settlements,and close proximity of the structures, along with the flammable materials used to construct the shacks, fires start and spread at a very rapid rate.
In a collaboration with Stephen Lamb and Andrew Lord, we came up with a design for low-cost fireproof windows. The idea behind the design being that if the windows close automatically as soon as the fire starts, the blaze can be isolated inside the structure and prevent the spread of the fire. I did the 3D modeling, rendering and animations, which were primarily used to prototype the design, but also to convince the local municipality of the idea and to get them to support a live burn test, which they ultimately did.
DESIGNING THE WINDOW
The simple design of the window makes use of fireproof boards for the shutters, along with standard over-the-counter hinges and latches. The window is designed in such a way as to ensure the window remains closed in the event of a fire, thus restricting the flow of air in order to starve an internal fire of oxygen, or prevent an external fire entering the structure.
PLANNING THE TEST
PROOF OF CONCEPT: BURN TEST
A total of nine structures were erected within close proximity of one another, to simulate the high density of homes found in an informal settlement. The test was setup to determine whether or not the prototype design of the fireproof windows, along with the use of fireproof cladding inside the two control structures, would prevent the spread of a fire. The results of the test were overwhelmingly positive, with the two structures fitted with the aforementioned features were the only ones left standing.