Our engineers should draw inspiration from Germany

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Analysis: EMELDA MUSONDA
ABOUT two months ago, Zambia hosted a two-day Housing and Infrastructure Symposium under the theme ‘Towards smart and resilient

infrastructure’.
One major issue that came out during the symposium was concern for mushrooming sub-standard infrastructure, be it roads, hospitals, houses, schools, bridges and so forth.
President Lungu in particular, during his address, lamented about the sub-standard structures that are being constructed and called on engineers to up their game. This is because these sub-standard structures are sprouting out right under their watch.
While as a country we are still struggling with architectural basics of putting up quality structures that can stand the test of time and adverse climatic conditions, developed countries such as Germany are way advanced and can now come up with structures that go beyond just offering quality shelter.
Recently, I was privileged to visit Germany for a media information tour at the invitation of that government. During my visit, one of the things that really made a lasting impression on me was the German Parliament building, known as the Reichstag.
Apart from its remarkable architectural beauty, it was amazing to learn that the architects behind the Reichstag designed the building in such a way that it represents four major issues – the significance of the German Parliament (Bundestag) as a democratic forum, an understanding of history, a commitment to transparency and accessibility, and a vigorous environmental agenda.
The Reichstag building, which was originally designed by the German architect Paul Wallot, was first completed in 1894 after 23 years of construction. However, the Second World War bombings and the Cold War caused great damage to the building.
Although the building was refurbished in 1960, renovators did not use Wallot’s original design of the dome, the building was rather simplified.
In 1995, the English architect Norman Foster was hired to put new life to the old Reichstag building. The refurbished building was officially opened in 1999 with so much more to offer.
The new Reichstag building has a glass dome, which stands at 23.5 metres high, and it is estimated that 800 tonnes of steel and 3,000 square metres of glass were used. The glass structure also has 360 mirrors, which provide daylight to the Bundestag (parliament) plenary chamber underneath.
Apart from providing for the use of natural light, the technology in the building allows for proper ventilation.
The Reichstag building also serves as a model for energy sustainability because the technology embedded in it allows it to work as a mini-power plant. This technology, apart from using wind and solar energy, also converts renewable bio-fuel from refined vegetable oils into electricity.
This system is far much cleaner than burning fossil fuels. The process results in a 94 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Surplus heat is stored as hot water in an aquifer deep below ground and can be pumped up to heat the building or to drive an absorption cooling plant to produce chilled water.
Due to its use of natural light, the Reichstag’s building’s energy requirements are modest enough to allow it to produce more energy than it consumes and to perform as a mini-power station.
The glass dome is not only a source of energy, but also a major tourist attraction receiving about 2.3 million tourists annually.
While as a country we may not compare ourselves to German in terms of technological advancements, we will do well to draw inspiration and lessons in areas where they are making strides.
As we prioritise infrastructure development as a country, it is important that our technocrats expose themselves to architectural developments in other countries. This is because exposure plays an important role in the development process of either an individual or a country.
Our engineers and architects can therefore draw lessons from the ingenious design and construction of the Reichstag building.
One of the lessons is the need to think outside the box and plan centuries ahead. This entails the need for our construction technocrats to come up with structures that adequately speak to various needs now and in future.
It also shows that engineers can drive tourism through inventively designed structures. For instance, the design, historical and technological value invested in the Reichstag building has proved to be a strong tourist attraction.
It is also worth noting that the engineers behind the Reichstag building did a great job in ensuring a resilient and quality building. This is evidenced by the fact that after the damage caused by the Second World War bombings, the frame of the building was still strong enough to warrant refurbishments as opposed to starting from scratch.
Our engineers need to bear in mind that the construction industry is advancing and there is need to up their game. Time to struggle with providing basic quality structures should be a thing of the past. There is need to shift focus to building structures that can offer much more than just shelter like the Reichstag.The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.
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