Mbekweni stonehouses

Building houses from recycled and locally available materials

Image courtesy of Collis & Associates
Buildings: Material

The Mbekweni Stonehouse project was started by the Western Cape Department of Housing, which aimed to experiment with alternative, labour-intensive ways of providing affordable housing as part of the South African government’s programme to provide housing for the poor. The project received financial support from the People’s Housing Process, a programme by the National Department of Human Settlements that provides a larger subsidy for houses built by beneficiary communities instead of conventional building contractors. The employment of unskilled young people in construction processes was one of the conditions for project funding.


Conventional low-cost housing in South Africa is constructed using energy-intensive building materials and processes to optimise speed and keep costs low. These houses make unsustainable use of materials and land, and are often uncomfortable to live in due to a lack of insulation and poor solar orientation. By integrating locally-sourced materials with clever design, the Stonehouse model developed at Mbekweni provides larger, better insulated homes with a lower energy footprint, for a similar cost.

Social Impact

In addition to providing shelter for the poor, the houses provided a number of co-benefits from the way they were designed and constructed. Beneficiaries were included in the decision-making, ensuring that the homes reflect their needs and preferences. Some of the homes have second storeys, allowing for the accommodation of additional family members or opportunities to earn rental income. The homes are positioned to maximise backyard space, to allow for food gardening and other outdoor activities. Unemployed people from the local area were employed in construction, and a training centre was set-up to upskill young people and inmates in construction techniques. 

Environmental Impact

Instead of using concrete and other conventional building materials (typically transported to site over long distances), the stonehouses are constructed as much as possible from locally-sourced materials. These include stone and sand from the site, as well as waste products from nearby construction and demolition projects (e.g. broken slate tiles for flooring, damaged kerbstones for foundations, pallets for ceilings and windows and carpet underfelt for ceiling insulation). This approach requires less fossil fuels for transport of materials, reduces the amount of construction waste sent to landfill, increases labour and keeps costs low. The inclusion of ceiling insulation and orientation of the houses to make best use of the sun helps to reduce heating and cooling requirements, and energy efficient lighting further reduces electricity demand. 

Success Factors

Grants and support from the Provincial and National governments were instrumental to the success of the project. The passion and vision of key individuals on the client and expert teams were also a key factor in pursuing innovations to achieve greater levels of sustainability.


The project created approximately 150 local jobs and up-skilled youth and inmates in construction techniques.

Founded in


Project type
Pilot project
Founded by

Sub-national government
Founding Organisation Two

No items found.
Founding Organisation Three

Sub-national government
Households reached
UN Sustainable Development Goal(s)
Last edited on:
September 13, 2023
Shared on:
September 13, 2023

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A female technician from DC-GO working on a solar-powered unit
Image courtesy of DC Go.