Mmegi Blogs :: A country of one-storey buildings
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Friday 19 January 2018, 18:00 pm.
A country of one-storey buildings

Building materials yesterday had to be locally derived. Until the advent of the railway, there was no alternative. Compacted earth did the trick for the walls, lengths of bark (for tying), thatching grass for the roof and wood both for the roof and for the window and door frames with ochres being the locally derived equivalent of commercial paint.
By Sandy Grant Wed 30 Aug 2017, 17:45 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: A country of one-storey buildings

These materials were used for building single chamber one storey round homes – rondavels. As used here, such materials would not have been suitable for anything higher.

But then there was no need and no demand for buildings of this kind. With the railway, however, came the first of the goods imported into this country, metal door and window frames, corrugated iron roofing, wire and probably most importantly, metal nails together with key tools such as axes, hammers and saws.

Together, these made possible the change from round to rectangular which enabled the very large new tribal churches to be built. Even the first of the houses of Dikgosi, however, continued to be single storey  structures even though they were revolutionary rectangular – a style introduced here for the first time by Livingstone at Kolobeng.

The first of the missionary houses, of the railway and of the national tribal offices, the precursor of today’s office blocks, were still single storey affairs even though they were built of brick and roofed with corrugated iron, as can still be seen in Kanye. The same pattern was carried over, very early, into domestic housing most notably at Mochudi, all these buildings being relatively small. For many years, the largest structure in the country must have been the Wenela hanger in Francistown with, in terms of bulk, the first of the new schools such as those in Old Palapye and Mochudi.

Even a short time ago, the only commercial buildings in the


country were the single storey general dealers, stores which stocked an extraordinary range of goods.

There were of course no specialist shops. But then came the change, not so much with Independence although it is worth remembering that with the first buildings in Gaborone, such as the British High Commission, a first time break was made from the single storey building.

It is also worth remembering that plans for the new Gaborone stipulated that, for the sake of physical coherence, there should be a three-story limit on all buildings in the Mall.

Inevitably, however, it was the appearance of diamond money that was responsible for the next dramatic change, the dramatic increase of office buildings both in terms of their height and their size.

This change occurred bit by bit and could presumably be documented. It was also the change in housing which has been so dramatic. This change has been made possible by the dramatic increase in personal wealth and by the availability of new building materials and in the skills to use those materials. Privately-owned houses today are no longer round, round having totally gone out of fashion, but are frequently of considerable size with perhaps five or six bedrooms taking the place of the one that was provided by a rondavel.

In one respect, however, there does exist a significant carry over from the past – that is the preference for a building which is markedly similar to those of others in the vicinity.


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