Two engineering graduates from the Islamic University of Gaza have defied all stereotypes with their design of an affordable new building block made from the rubble of war, and they’re about to scale operations for mass production. Subverting a crippling Israeli blockade that makes importing construction materials a demeaning, expensive, and time-consuming process, Majd Mashharawi and Rawan Abddllaht overcame a litany of obstacles to develop their green bricks. Their goal is to help Gaza residents rebuild their homes after three wars in 10 years have left thousands of buildings in ruins.
Majd told Inhabitat that she and Rawan became interested in material science during their university years, but they weren’t content to work with materials that had already been developed. Instead, she said they set out to create their own building blocks using local materials to make inexpensive but durable building bricks. She says demand in Gaza has risen to 40,000 bricks per day.
In March 2015, UNRWA reported that “…9,061 Palestine refugee houses have been considered totally destroyed and 5,066 have suffered severe, 4,085 major and 120,333 minor damages. Also, to date, the Agency has only received funding to reconstruct 200 of the 9,061 houses totally destroyed.” The blockade has made timely reconstruction inordinately difficult.
Israel claims the blockade is necessary to suppress Hamas, the militant Islamic group that has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007. By documenting every crumb of cement that goes in and out of Gaza, complete with GPS coordinates of planned construction sites, the Israel Defense Forces can prevent Hamas from building new tunnels through which to smuggle arms. But the UN has said the siege amounts to collective punishment in violation of international humanitarian law.
Majd and Rawan are also concerned about the byproduct of coal combustion, which they said results in 10 tons of coal ash in Gaza dumped each week, contaminating limited groundwater supplies. For months, often doubted by their community, they researched how to substitute rock and sand with coal ash and concrete rubble to make lightweight bricks. Time and again their bricks failed compression tests.
“Every time we failed I reminded myself that in order to achieve success we have to overcome these obstacles and delete the word failure from the dictionary,” said Majd.
After more than six months, Majd said they finally discovered the right formula. “When we first got the minimum required strength of standard building blocks, I was about to have a heart shock from happiness to know that I just became one step closer to my dream and goal in this life, which is leaving a fingerprint and making the world a better place to live in, starting from developing my home country Gaza.”
Now GreenCake has launched a crowdfunding campaign so they can increase production of their lightweight bricks, which are said to cost half as much as standard bricks. These talented young women are not only building a business from the ashes of environmental destruction and war, but also lives.