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Kalumba aims to strengthen foundations

10 Jul 2014 - 13:30
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Dr Denis Kalumba at the Darling Wind Farm, where he, together with some students, has been researching best practice for the foundation of windmills. A radical overhaul of UCT's Geotechnical Laboratory, and the addition of four pieces of fully automated soil-testing equipment, has propelled the lab near the top of the geotechnical engineering ladder in Africa. Kalumba hopes that the revamped lab will eventually become a Centre of Excellence. 

The task is simple: to ensure that everybody sleeps in safe homes. 

That responsibility falls on UCT's Dr Denis Kalumba, who was appointed last year to develop the curriculum and carry out training in the basic principles of geotechnical engineering for all National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC) inspectors in South Africa.

"As you will appreciate, a house begins in the foundation," says Kalumba, a geotechnical engineering expert who specialises in foundations. "The NHBRC inspectors inspect all phases of construction, and one of the initial ones is the inspection of foundations, because if the structure fails at the foundation, it will not be able to stand.

"What [the NHBRC] identified was that many structures that failed or are not serviceable, for example in housing estates where half of the houses are filled with cracks and are really unusable, is simply because they did not do a proper job in the foundation; the ground on which the structures were built was not competent, or it was not well-compacted."

Kalumba will be training inspectors to conduct geotechnical site tests (pre-construction tests of the soil), teaching the procedures applicable to construction sites, as well as introducing techniques used to characterise soil properties and to quantify the mechanical behaviour of soils.

And he will not only teach the inspectors what to test for, but also how to interpret the results.

He's trained inspectors in four provinces so far – Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the North-West – with plans afoot to tend to the remaining provinces by March 2015.

Story by Yusuf Omar, Photo by Michael Hammond