As part of research in the Faculty of the Built Environment at Uganda Martyrs University and as an initiative to promote sustainability in practice, the faculty along with its partners is setting out to engage built environment professionals in a dialogue on sustainability.  Our aim is to have a discussion about sustainability and approaches to it in design and building construction. We will document both the successful interventions/processes and any challenges, and probe pertinent issues in order to formulate the current state of affairs in Uganda, and possible way forward.

You are therefore encouraged to upload any questions you have and share any experience with regard to sustainability.


Popular Building Techniques and Material Utilisation in Low Income Tropical Housing; A case for a sustainable materials selection toolkit

This post sets to make the case for a tool that has been born out of an interrogation of the complex construct that is housing. Aspects that may contribute towards improving the quality, and, reduce the cost and impact of construction processes on the environment are of particular interest. The blog post thus, focuses on building a case for the development of a sustainable materials selection toolkit.

Buildings and their use have been noted to be a major consumer of energy and materials. It is estimated that 40% of the world’s energy is consumed by buildings, during construction and operation. It is no surprise that worldwide, there is a growing concern on the need to manage the world’s available resources better as observed by increasing literature and mobilisation on the subject of sustainability. Studies and discussions though, with regard to energy use and sustainability in the construction industry are often pre-occupied with operational energy of buildings. However, improvements in construction standards, ever improving energy efficient appliances, zero carbon energy supply on site imply that the total whole life carbon foot print is getting smaller while embodied energy and associated emissions are becoming more important in relative terms. (Lane, 2010)

This situation, it can be theorised, is true for low-income tropical housing in Uganda, since there is little or no heating and or cooling energy load because of the relatively mild climatic conditions. Furthermore, the relative poverty of low-income households implies that the prevalence of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVAC) is low. It is therefore clear that in this context, appropriate material use and selection is important in the promotion of sustainability in the construction of housing.

The case for a materials selection toolkit as a part of efforts to sustainably contribute towards the development of low-income housing is made when one considers the fact that in Uganda, low-income housing is synonymous with slums and more accurately, informal housing. Informal housing encapsulates slums, squatter settlements, marginal settlements, spontaneous settlements, transitional settlements and other settlement typologies that exist without proper planning permission and outside of the formal construction sector. This marginal existence implies that housing is seldom procured with the assistance of professional help. Rather, construction decisions are often driven by a variety of factors — some of which are baseless, to say the least. A materials selection toolkit would provide various implementers (developers, designers, artisans, building and construction managers) and receivers (clients, users, and the general community) involved in the construction of buildings with a manageable method to select building materials in a structured, measurable, and meaningful way.

The proposed tool is intended to compare materials based on the primary sustainability indicators, that is, environmental, social and economic ramifications. The indicators are detailed into criteria that include: for environmental indicator – impacts and life cycle; for the social indicator – health and safety, taste and preference, and performance of the material; and cost of the material as the criterion for the economic indicator. These criteria are further broken down into sub-criteria, which are the factors that should influence material selection. These include but are not limited to toxicity, embodied energy, fire resistance, aesthetics, cultural influences, maintenance, acoustic properties and moisture resistance.

Information on various materials’ ability to meet the exhaustive sub criteria, in their utilisation in various parts of the building is being gathered and the proposed weighing methodology being tested. The expected outcome is a series of scores, with the most sustainable material garnering the highest points. This therefore serves as an easily applicable and useful tool from which material choice can be made with little technical knowledge.


Lane, T. (2010). Embodied energy: The next big carbon challenge. Available at: <> Retrieved: 15. July. 2014.

UN-Habitat. (2010) Uganda urban housing sector profile. Nairobi: UN-Habitat

Popovic, J. M., Kosanovic, S. (2009). Selection of building materials based upon ecological characteristics: Priorities in function of environmental protection. SPATIUM International Review. no.20 pp. 23-27


Did German architect Ernst May invent the “Muzigo”?

Ernst May was a German architect and urban designer credited for his contribution towards easing Frankfurt’s housing shortage in the 1920’s and 30’s. So, how is it possible that one credited for fundamental work in one of the worlds greatest cities could have created the symbol of poor housing in Kampala?

Muzigo – name given to single room tennement often found in low-income settlements 

One roomed muzigo - Mbuya  Source: Nnaggenda-Musana & Vestbro (2013)
One roomed muzigo – Mbuya
Source: Nnaggenda-Musana & Vestbro (2013)

In order to understand the connection between May and the “Muzigo,” one has to consider how housing policies in Uganda have impacted stakeholders involved in housing supply. Housing policy in Uganda can be broken down into three phases, pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial. Before colonialism, the area that currently makes up Uganda was composed of a rural based population of hunter-gatherers and farmers. With exception of the “Kibuga,” – the traditional centre of the Buganda Kingdom, there were no notable urban areas. Housing was the responsibility of individual households. The family head, often helped by neighbours in the construction process, was responsible for housing provision (Sanya in Nnaggenda-Musana & Vestbro, 2013). With the advent of colonialism in 1893, Uganda was declared a protectorate and Entebbe was declared the Capital of the new protectorate. In 1903 the Uganda ordinance was passed; this ordinance gave the Governor the powers to define the boundary of Kampala. This was followed in 1912 by Kampala’s first plan. The plan was intended to control and direct development, however it must be mentioned that it gave priority to upper and middle-class white and/or Asian populations and was therefore focused on Nakasero and old Kampala (UN-Habitat, 2007.)

The indigenous population was largely ignored with the assumption that they would be migrant in nature, commuting from their rural based abodes to work in the urban areas. In 1930 Ernst May generated the first comprehensive plan for Kampala that included settlements for middle and low-income housing for Asian and African populations (Nnaggenda-Musana & Vestbro, 2013.) These settlements were located in Nakawa and Naguru, on the outskirts of the main industrial and commercial areas. The low-income dwellings were intended to provide accommodation for male labourers who it was still assumed would remain migrant in nature.

This is supported by the fact that the spatial nature of the dwellings did not afford living spaces able to house a family. Spatially, the housing provided for a sleeping area and a kitchenette. The units were arranged around a quadrangle where other living activities could take places. Shared bathrooms and toilets were housed in a block off the enclosing units.

Low-income housing unit nakawa Source: Author
Low-income housing unit nakawa
Source: Author


Layout of low-income housing unit - Nakawa Source: Author
Layout of low-income housing unit – Nakawa
Source: Author

May’s low income housing, I theorise, gave rise to the modern day one roomed tenement commonly referred to as “Muzigo.”


UN-Habitat. (2007) Housing for all: The challenge of affordability accessibility and sustainability. Nairobi: UN-Habitat. Nnaggenda-Musana, A., Vestbro, D. U. (2013) Upgrading with densification. Global Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology. Vol.2, no.1, pp. 27-72.

Nnaggenda-Musana, A., Vestbro, D. U. (2013) Upgrading with densification. Global Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology. Vol.2, no.1, pp. 27-72.

Low income housing – musings

ELITH as a research study situates itself in low-income housing. This is done consciously as currently up to one third of the world’s population falls in the low-income bracket and need appropriate housing. It is projected that this housing need will only grow especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where population is growing fastest with a threat of mass homelessness. (UN-Habitat, 2008)

This blog post sets out to discuss the meaning of low-income housing in the context of Uganda. Uganda a landlocked country situated in East Africa, is bordered by Kenya to the East, South Sudan to the North, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the West, Rwanda to the Southwest, and by Tanzania and Lake Victoria to the South. The region is sometimes referred to as the great lakes region due to the presence of lakes: Victoria, Tanganyika, Malawi, Turkana, Albert, Rukwa, Mweru, Kivu and Edward. These lakes are important to note due to the fact that they have a major influence on settlement patterns. This is most especially true for Uganda whose main urban centres: Kampala, Kira, Nansana, Jinja, Entebbe, Mbarara, Kasese and Masaka, eight of the 10 largest urban areas in Uganda accounting for more than 50% of the countries urban population (UBOS, 2010) lie within the lake basin region.

Worldwide, there are a number of working definitions for low income housing arising from a combination of the definitions of low-income in that region, and the purpose for which income groups are being delimited. For example, Palmer (200?) commenting on low-income with regards to households in the United Kingdom suggests that low-income refers to a situation where a household may be in strained circumstances because it has to spend a greater proportion of its income on necessities than the average family of similar size. Specifically, the threshold for low income is defined as the income below which a family is likely to spend 20 percentage points more of its income on food, shelter and clothing than the average family. Palmer (200?) reveals that in 1992, an expenditure survey in the United Kingdom showed that on average, families spent 43% of their after-tax income on necessities. Then, to calculate the low-income cut off, 20 percentage points are added, giving 63% of after-tax income. This is done on the grounds that a family spending more than this proportion of its income on necessities is significantly worse off than the average family.

The idea of low-income housing is in many ways similar to that of low-income, in fact, it can be said that, the concept of low-income housing is an investigation into low-income, with particular emphasis on the impact of housing as a necessary burden on a household’s income. According to the Washington State Labour Council (2009), Woo and Mangin (2009) the definition for low-income housing arises from the premise that a household’s monthly cost of housing should not exceed 30% of its net income. This is because in a situation where housing costs are greater than 30% of the household’s income, the fore mentioned household would find it difficult to meet other necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care. Therefore, households that cannot be suitably housed at the 30% percent standard within an area are considered “low-income,” meaning they earn below 80% of the area median income. This “standard” however is not fixed and various countries utilise a different income percentage. Canada for example changed from 20% to 25% in the 1950’s and are currently utilising a 30% household income rule (Hulchanski, 1995) and India utilises a 40% rule.

Highlighting definitions associated with low-income housing does not elucidate their application or usefulness. In order to comprehend the meaning of the definitions, it is important to understand the driving rational for generating the definitions. It is worth noting that developed countries that have well developed welfare systems often generate comprehensive data and definitions with regard to low-income housing. In these regions low-income housing refers to that which is provided to households at a cost less than that which would be considered financially strenuous. The central administration utilising various tools intervenes in the process of housing supply to ensure that the housing needs of a cross section of income earners is met. However, in developing countries like Uganda factors such as wide spread poverty, a large informal sector and limited government resources limit the ability of low-income housing provision and by extension, definition.

Having observed a lack of systems for coordinated low-income housing supply, and on a more elementary level, an official and universally acceptable (Ugandan?) definition for low-income housing, in your opinion, what is low-income housing in the context of Uganda?


UN-Habitat. (2007) Housing for all: The challenge of affordability accessibility and sustainability. Nairobi: UN-Habitat.

Palmer, G. (200?a). Choices of low-income threshold. [online] Available at: <; Retrieved: 27.May. 2014

Washington State Labour Council (AFL-CIO) (2009) Affordable Housing and Homelessness. [online] Available at: <; Retrieved: 10. March. 2014.

Woo, R., Mangin, J. (2009) What is affordable housing? New York: Center for Urban Pedagogy.

Hulchanski, J. D. (1995) The Concept of Housing Affordability: Six Contemporary Uses of the Expenditure to Income Ratio. Housing Studies, Vol.10, no. 4.

Nnaggenda-Musana, A., Vestbro, D. U. (2013) Upgrading with densification. Global Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology. Vol.2, no.1, pp. 27-72.

Uganda Bureau of Statistics. (2010). 2010 statistical abstract. Kampala: Uganda Bureau of Statistics.

UN-Habitat. (2007) Situation analysis of informal settlements in Kampala. Nairobi: UN-Habitat.