Lack of Infrastructure
Construction projects by their nature are fragmented, complex and risky…even under more favourable circumstances, where the site is closer to large urban centres, with good roads, power, readily available hardware, reliable health and safety support, a good bed, hot water, and a smartphone signal.
The lack of such basic infrastructure presents a daily challenge to operations in the bush.
These limitations can be rapidly aggravated by a lack of professional planning and communication, dynamic ‘bush management’ (read: problem solving skills), poor allocation of resources, and inexperienced site teams.
Tenthouse Structures’ experienced site management and supervisors have learned and earned the know-how to build in the bush over accumulative decades of doing so.
Here are some of the key challenges, in-field examples and skills required to manage them:
The experience of building in a wide variety of remote geographies.
For example: A rocky desert terrain is not the same as a sandy desert.
Contractor assumptions are often inadequate or inaccurate. Anchoring into rock or shale without the correct equipment is not viable when considering hundreds of anchoring points (even with the lighter expedition-style camps). Such an error could increase site rigging time & costs by tenfold.
Planning and advisory between the main building contractor and #THS site construction management are essential prior to building out and final costing.
The cost upfront of a simple, professional geotechnical survey is marginal compared to the consequential cost of a misjudgment of the subterranean composition.
The grace and awareness to respect and work around wildlife; ‘Leave them alone and they will leave you’ is our approach.
For example: A key main area structural member must be footed onto a crocodile-infested riverbank, that due to an unusual seasonal high-water level variation, is now unexpectedly submerged. A practical solution must be figured out and implemented in time in order not to slow down this critical path task. Cool-headed site management would evaluate the risk, consider several options with key role players, plan and develop a safe and cost-effective plan to execute within program constraints. Rather than moving the entire structure which may affect a hippo or elephant water entry passage and could have knock-on effects with other already planned or build service infrastructure; perhaps this involves a boat, some steel caging welded on-site, some watertight shuttering and a secured entry point to build the footing and plant the member. One can see the need for welding machinery, pump & piping, spare steel rods, and a boat. Such hardware would have been allowed for in advance so such rapid-build pragmatic options could be executed on-site without much disruption to wildlife and the greater project delivery.
The foresight to mitigate delay and risk of build-in-progress damage in regions prone to extreme seasonal weather.
For example: a vulnerable time in a tented camp build process is erecting tent roofs. Once erected a Tenthouse Structure engineered tensile roof system is in a state of pre-stressed equilibrium and ready to withstand extreme loads they have been designed for. However, prior to this, they are no more than large floppy fabric sails. With a large canopy (perhaps several hundred m2/thousand ft2), raising these sails to fit onto a substructure, requires incredible skill and professional planning. But if a sudden wind gust arises whilst the sail is being unfolded or secured, havoc could break loose, with sails uncontrollably flapping in the wind, risking tearing and injury. A comprehensive method statement and risk plan have to be devised beforehand to manage the rig and such marginal impact events. Understanding wind patterns and effect is critical. Safety first, followed by product damage mitigation is the next key steps. It comes down to all-round professional craft: having both the technical skill sets, a plan, the leadership and the intuition to know when and how to calmly react in unison and to bring such a situation under control.
The hands-on pragmatism to solve challenges around site access.
For example: Poor roads with extreme seasonal wet and dry seasons, can present massive cost and environmental challenges if one gets the timing wrong. In certain parts of Africa, we have under an 8-month window to build. If split over two seasons, that’s one season with zero revenue generation (by far the biggest cost), remobilization of crews and machinery for a second phase build and potential project fatigue. All accumulative costs perhaps not accounted for in the feasibility planning. Perhaps 9 -10 months of building is required, however. Therefore, the bulk materials should be planned for arrival on-site within the dry season. But this may not always be possible with standard ITE establishment facilities in place (or perhaps there has been an EIA delay) and to compound that, the interior soft items (generally the last items on site) could result in an unforeseen costly wet season bulk delivery.
Such costs could include:
Access to site via boats, 4×4 trucks, mokoros (traditional canoes), as well as manual portage, block and tackle rigs, and machinery & plant, at substantial monthly rental fees, that cannot physically be returned and has to stay on sit until the next dry period.
An alternative we have learned is to build more expansive site storage. This infrastructure could be used to house bulk dry construction and FF&E items, then converted/integrated later into the permanent camp facilities. In so doing providing a cost-effective all-round solution that does not allow the site access factor to impose undue risk on the projects timely roll-out and environmental wear and tear on the access avenues.
The Right Tools & Hardware:
Speed of assembly, outdoor, commercial or military-grade durability of tools and their parts, ease of repair on-site, adequate replacements and spares, versatility and speciality applications, battery-driven and power cord options, local availability…these are a few of the critical considerations our site management team evaluate prior to specifying the tool manifest for site. Overlooking or making the wrong tooling decisions can delay projects.
For example: Access to large tensile roof hub assembly may be both tricky and extremely hot. Quality fail-safe tensioning jacks are required. Lower-grade jacks could seize, and a rigger may over-heat whilst an inferior jack is being changed out. This is a health and safety issue we do not compromise on.
Having the patience and discipline to produce options and make informed decisions to manage shortages.
The logistics to a remote site somewhere miles from home base are mind-boggling.
Despite all the planning in the world, inevitable challenges occur. ‘missing’ parts being one.
On a project manifest a certain steel ring part was accounted for but the part number was incorrectly inscribed on the parcel and now sits in another consolidated package either on later container bound for this project, assigned to another project elsewhere or not packed and in home-base despatch still.
Either way, site requires the item urgently. Initial spot checks do not reveal anything…The first point of call is always ‘can we make it, or fix it up on-site? A critical planning tool is where feasible to carry spares, the drawings and the machinery capable of producing repeatable, site fabricatable parts.
If this is not an option, the site team would then be left with such options as:
- wait for the next container in 2-3 weeks’ time and reshuffle their program.
- Wait for a more thorough search at home-base and an audit of other manifests
- Remanufacture the part at home and then fly it out
- Re-manufacture locally.
Such a seemingly small part can create a substantial quandary in remote operations. The decision again involves a calm and methodical approach, along with real-time problem-solving skills to develop choices. From that point, well-informed decisions can be made.
Simplicity in design is key, but the kits and skills to repair on-site are equally fundamental.
Animals, integrated trades working in small areas, local crews, seizing bolts and so forth are variables that although well managed nonetheless impact occasional damage to or inoperability of parts is a reality in the bush.
A clamping plate bolt strips resulting in a bent flange. The rod and bolt must be removed; the flange assessed. A decision is taken, in consultation with our engineer, to repair the bent flange in situ. This requires accessibility to the space and the various parts, yogic dexterity and a highly skilled rigger capable of working almost surgically close to fabric without damaging it or himself in the process.
The patience, skill & willingness to gain trust in and transfer skills to foreign labour crews. Language barriers, cultural differences, and work methodology are tough challenges that only the most skilled bushmasters embrace.
Working conditions should be adapted to support the abilities of local crew, reduce repetitive and strenuous manual labour to manage safety.
Health and Wellbeing:
Malaria, Dengue fever, bites, diarrhea…No nearby hospitals. Should a serious illness or injury occur, on-site first aid expertise, medivac extraction experience critical.
‘Bush eyes’… A term for supervisors and crew when they have spent just a little too long on site, cut off from families, friends, and the rest of the world.
Errors creep in, conflicts arise, productivity diminishes.
‘Lots of creatures, little comfort’ is a factor we have to manage carefully. Knowing when and how to change our crew at appropriate times for a battery recharge is essential.
Fatigue can creep in working full pace for 6-7 days a week. Managing eating, sleep, fitness and staff temperament and time-off…requires camaraderie, leadership skill and a sense of humour!
Design Twice, Build Once
The bulk of our structures are meticulously designed, for pre-manufactured in kit-form. This process we refer to as DMA (Design for Manufacture and Assembly). It takes place under the safe, controlled studio, warehouse and factory environments where errors, inefficiencies, risks, and wastage are significantly lessened. Our DMA business modelreduces on-site labour, heavy vehicle traffic through restricted areas and general wildlife disruption.
From a ‘building in the bush’ perspective, the main objective is that the entire process runs consistently, from minimal transport to easy-to-read build books.
Making great designs means making them simple to translate and implement on-site; staying focused on the essentials. If it’s not functional, it may amplify complexity on site.
Part of this process means involving the site team in the design process to highlight any potential real-world issues.
Nonetheless, there will always be unexpected design clashes with the site.
With simple build books, supporting construction drawings and an effective communication methodology; the issues can be clearly exchanged between the site and professional teams, consensus reached, and solutions produced.
The environmental factor
EIR (Environmental Impact Regulations):
The discipline to plan and work to environmental impact regulation and guidelines.
Energy and water use, ground disruption,
wildlife and flora disturbance, packaging waste, community conflict and so
forth are all considered when building Tenthouse Structures, with reusability
and recycling processes implemented when possible
As a business, we understand that it is paramount to preserve the last remaining wild open spaces for future generations, local communities and for nature itself.
The remote wilderness ecosystems in which we operate inspire our designs and motivate us to deliver the most visually and physically sensitive, lightweight fabric habitats imaginable.
We believe perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. Tenthouse Structures is a proud member of the Green Building Council SA.
In summary The spectrum and depth of know-how, expertise, experience, and awareness that Tenthouse carry is rare and absolutely invaluable to building successfully in the bush.