Nasiru Ibrahim is an architect and founding partner of Black Orchard Group, a property development company based in Abuja. In this interview, he spoke on the impact of climate change and COVID-19 on the housing sector. Excerpts:
At Black Orchard, how are you adjusting to the impact of climate change on the built environment?
The awareness on climate change is becoming more mainstream now in Nigeria. However, it is a fair balance between cost and being responsible for the environment. I believe you have to be comfortable before you start thinking of being responsible for the environment. But it is not impossible to weigh the options because somehow, responding to these environmental realities might be a cheaper option. For example, the sustainable production of interlocking pavers with recycled materials, I believe, is something that can match the prices and even lower the price of interlocking pavers that perform better than the traditional concrete interlocking pavers. So at Black Orchard, we are responding to and contributing our quota to the environment by embracing this kind of innovation and we have made it our point to buy those kinds of interlocking pavers on all our sites.
Are there other materials you used previously that had some amount of carbon emissions that you are trying to replace?
Interestingly, for us the reverse is the case because it has been more of trying to be efficient. For example, we do scaffolding around our buildings with the most sustainable materials, which is bamboo. Bamboo grows very fast and it is replaceable, it’s a plant and it has sustainability credit. However, it comes with its own problem, in the sense that it is more difficult to work with than the conventional steel scaffolding.
In terms of design, are changing your designs to conform to the present realities of climate change and the impact of COVID-19, because the pandemic is still very much with us?
In terms of design, we are not doing much; not that we don’t know how to do it, we should do more to respond to climate change but we are businessmen so the more units we have on our sites, the better for us. Hence it does not allow us do little things like reorienting the positions of the widows so that there is not too much sun that is heating where the openings are. These are the small, small design features that you can change. But the most efficient one that we are doing which was necessitated by the cost of power was to incorporate alternative sources of energy in our buildings – solar panels and inverters. A lot of people are embracing it now because the cost of power is becoming more expensive.
COVID-19 has compelled people to spend more time at home so there is need for study, for a more comfortable living space and so on. And we are getting a lot of feedback from our customers that everybody wants a home of his own. Consequently, the demand for residential units has increased dramatically.
How has this demand impacted pricing?
The demand has affected pricing but not only that, the adverse effect of COVID on the economy has caused the rise in the cost of building materials. For example, to ship a 20 foot container from China pre-COVID ranged between $1,500 to $2,000 but today I cannot even import from China because the last quotation I got for the same container was $9,000. So, all of these add to the cost of building and ultimately, the cost of housing.
However, there is an interesting twist, developers are beginning to look inwards. We have reduced the quantity of tiles that we import, we are buying from a Nigerian manufacturer called CDK, they are doing a great job and the quality is good, it is of international standard and the pricing is competitive and it does not take much time to get my materials on ground.
We used to import doors from Turkey but this time around, we are fabricating locally. We have finalized our designs and we want the doors customized to our brand and we have had samples produced and we have placed the order. The prices are slightly lower than when you import but the problem we are having is with the quality. So we need to push our local manufacturers to do some more.
In terms of performance you have said the property market did very well in 2021. How is the outlook like in 2022?
The property market performed miraculously well in 2021 and in 2022 we are all anxiously anticipating the impact of the removal of subsidy on petroleum products. I believe it will have an adverse effect on logistics, especially transportation. That alone is going to affect the cost of labour significantly.