July 15, 2022 D34n0
Wilderness Construction

Wilderness construction projects are often fragmented, complex and risky undertakings, especially ones destined to be made in extremely remote wilderness areas. These projects are often incredibly tricky under even more favorable circumstances where the site is close to a large urban center, where it enjoys the benefits of accessible roads, has access to a power grid, hardware stores, reliable healthcare and safety infrastructure, and consistent access to a telecom network. When building tented camps in the extremely remote wilderness the lack of basic infrastructure presents innumerable challenges that are hard to anticipate and harder to overcome for inexperienced teams.

Wilderness construction challenges and their operating limits are unfailingly, and rapidly aggravated by a lack of professional planning and communication, dynamic “bush management” (read: Hands-on problem solving skills), poor allocation of resources, a healthy sense of humor, and an inexperienced site team.

WILDERNESS CONSTRUCTION 101: BASIC BUSH CRAFT

Tenthouse Structures’ experienced site management and supervisors have learned through the various trials-by-fire from our catalog of international projects the necessary know-how of successfully managing wilderness construction projects. This insider knowledge represents decades of professionalism in the field earning their stripes. The key skills and wisdom required to manage the challenges of wilderness construction include a deep understanding and the requisite planning for:

TERRAIN

An essential ingredient to remote construction in a extreme geographies is understanding the subtle variations of different wilderness ecosystems. For example, construction project requirements for a rocky desert are very different to those of a sandy desert. Ditto the difference between a rain forest project and that of a redwood forest.

Contractors can easily make incorrect assumptions that stall or capsize a project. For example, anchoring tensile cables to rock or shale without the appropriate equipment is not viable when multiplied over hundreds of anchor points (even with the lighter expedition-style camps). Rookie errors like this stand to increase site rigging time and costs exponentially.

Establishing planning and advisory paths and protocols between the main building contractor and Tenthouse Structures wilderness construction project management teams are essential prior to building-out and final costing. Although an additional line item for the project balance sheet, the up-front cost of a professional geotechnical survey is negligible when compared to the consequential cost of a misjudgment of the subterranean composition.

LOCAL WILDLIFE

Years of remote wilderness construction has taught the Tenthouse Structures team awareness of, and respect for-, the presence of local wildlife on building sites. In practical terms, this can play out in sudden and unexpected ways, especially for inexperienced construction teams. “Keeping your cool” in high-pressure situations is not always possible, even if it is necessary to get the job done.

The development at Duma Tau taught the Tenthouse team valuable lessons in this regard. For this project key main-area structural member needed to be footed onto a crocodile-infested riverbank. However, due to an unseasonably high water-level variation, the bank was completely submerged. The solution required consideration of the risk to personnel, hardware and equipment, while balancing the need to expedite this critical path task.

Cool-heads from the site management team were needed to evaluate the risk, consider the options with key role players, and develop a safe and cost-effective plan to execute this within the established program constraints. Rather than moving the entire structure (which would challenge long-established hippo and elephant water entry points) a solution was devised using a boat, some steel caging welded on-site, watertight shuttering and a secured entry point to build the footing and plant the member securely. Imagination and ingenuity, along with a “measure twice, cut once” approach to planning are some of the strongest, but also the most unsung, assets in the Tenthouse studio.

WEATHER

Roof construction is typically a time when construction is at a very vulnerable stage in a tented camp. Once erected an engineered tensile roof system is in a state of pre-stressed equilibrium and ready to withstand the extreme loads they are designed for. However, prior to this, they are little more than swaths of fabric, vulnerable to wind, rain and tear damage. Raising these sails to fit onto a substructure, requires skill and professional planning. A comprehensive method statement and risk plan is required to manage these rigs, their personnel and the marginal impact events. Understanding local wind patterns and their effects is critical to this undertaking. Safety first, followed by product damage mitigation are the key next-steps. It comes down to all-round professional craft and technical skill sets, coupled with the required leadership and intuition to know when and how to react to bring such a situation under control. Mitigating factors of climate and inclement weather, through prior planning and solid contingency measures, helps to delay and manage the risk of build-in-progress damage in regions prone to extreme seasonal weather.

SITE ACCESS

No roads, or poor ones with extreme wet and dry seasons present cost and environmental challenges if build timing is wrong. In certain parts of Africa, there can be less than an 8-month build window available to construction teams. Split over two seasons, that’s an entire tourist season with zero revenue generation, compounded by the necessary re-mobilization of crews and machinery for a second phase build and, potentially, project fatigue. The bulk of materials should be planned for arrival on-site in the dry season. However, this is not always possible, and to compound matters, the soft interior items (generally the last items on site) sometimes result in unforeseen delays–typically falling to costly wet-season deliveries.

Unpredictable costs such as these can mount quickly. How does one plan around the need for access to site via boats, 4×4 trucks, renting ‘mokoros’ (traditional canoes), as well as the need for labor for manual portage, and additional block and tackle rigs.

One alternative Tenthouse Structures has developed to accommodate this is to build more expansive site storage. This infrastructure is used to house bulk dry construction and other items, and is converted or integrated into permanent camp facilities. A truly cost-effective all-round solution that limits the site access factor from imposing undue risks to the project, and ameliorating environmental wear on stored construction materials.

THE RIGHT TOOLS AND HARDWARE

Speed of assembly, outdoor, commercial or military-grade durability of tools and their parts, ease of repair on-site, adequate replacements and spares, versatility and specialty applications, battery-driven and power cord options, and local availability are a few of the critical considerations any site management team needs to evaluate prior to specifying a tool manifest for the site. Overlooking or making the wrong tooling decisions can delay projects.

For example, access to large tensile roof hub assembly may be both tricky and extremely hot, depending on environmental factors. High-quality, fail-safe, tensioning jacks are required as poor-quality jacks often seize putting the rigger at risk for heat exposure while a seized jack is being changed out. Health and safety issues like this simply cannot be compromised on.

LOST OR MISSING PARTS

Having the patience and discipline to produce options and make informed decisions to manage shortages. The logistics to managing a remote site miles from home base are mind-boggling. Despite the most meticulous planning, challenges and errors are bound to happen with‘missing’ parts being just one of them.

Imagine a project manifest accounted for a certain steel ring part, but the part number was incorrectly inscribed on the parcel. This part was then assigned to another consolidated package for later delivery, stalling construction. The first point of call is always “Can we make it, or fix it up on-site?” A critical planning tool is–wherever feasible–carry spares, as well as the drawings and machinery capable of producing repeatable, site fabricate-able parts.

Such a seemingly insignificant element can create a substantial problem in extremely remote construction operations. Good site planning and management involves a calm and methodical approach, along with real-time problem-solving skills to evolve available choices, especially for contingencies such as this. From this point, well-informed decisions can be made to keep the project on track.

REPAIRS

Simplicity of design is key, but the kits and skills to repair on-site are fundamental. Add to this the presence of unpredictable wild animals, integrated construction teams working in confined areas, and bolts that disagreeably seize at the wrong moment, all are variables that impact occasional damage or render parts inoperable. This is the day-to-day reality of remote wilderness construction. Out in the wild a clamping plate bolt strips during assembly, resulting in a bent flange. The rod and bolt must be removed and the flange assessed. A decision is taken–in consultation with the engineer–to repair the bent flange on-site. This requires access to the space and the various parts, the dexterity of a yogi, and a skilled rigger capable of working surgically close to textile membranes without damaging the membrane, or themselves in the process.

CREW MANAGEMENT

The patience, skill and willingness to gain trust in, and transfer skills to foreign labor crews are hallmarks of Tenthouse Structures’ on-site project methodology. Language barriers, cultural differences, and variations in work methodologies can be unexpected construction site challenges that only the most skilled bushmasters seek to embrace.

WILDERNESS CONSTRUCTION & SITE ERGONOMICS

Working conditions should be adapted to support the abilities and expertise of local crews, reducing repetitive and strenuous manual labor, and managing safety requirements. Working in Africa means Malaria, Dengue fever, bug bites, diarrhea, and no conveniently located medical facilities. Should a serious illness or injury occur, on-site first aid expertise and medivac extraction experience are critical qualities a construction team will require.

‘Lots of creatures and few comforts’ is a factor that needs constant and careful management. Knowing when and how to change our crew at appropriate times for a battery recharge is essential.

Fatigue easily creeps in as crews work full pace for 6-7 days in a row. Monitoring and managing crew’s eating, sleeping, fitness and temperament requires experienced leadership and camaraderie, not to mention a robust sense sense of humor!

WILDERNESS CONSTRUCTION: DESIGN TWICE, BUILD ONCE

Tenthouse Structures’ projects are meticulously designed from the ground-up, or are pre-manufactured in kit form. This process is referred to as Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DMA). It takes place under the safe, controlled-studio, warehouse and factory environments where errors, inefficiencies, risks, and wastage are significantly lessened. Our DMA business model reduces on-site labor, heavy vehicle traffic through restricted areas, and minimizes wildlife disruption.

From a wilderness construction perspective, the main objective is to ensure the entire process runs consistently, from minimal transport to easy-to-read and understand build-books.

Creating great, workable designs means ensuring that they are simple to translate and implement on-site. If a design decision is not functional, its complexity may be amplified on site. Part of this process means involving the site team in the design process to highlight any potential real-world issues.

With simple build-books, supporting construction drawings, and an effective communication methodology; the issues can be clearly exchanged between the site and professional teams, consensus reached, and solutions produced.

THE ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS OF WILDERNESS CONSTRUCTION

It takes a great deal of discipline to plan and work to Environmental Impact Regulation (EIR) guidelines. Energy and water use, ground disruption, wildlife and flora disturbance, packaging waste, community conflict, and a host of other factors all need to be considered in wilderness construction projects, with re-usability and recycling processes implemented wherever possible.

Design teams, site- and project managers must understand that it is essential to preserve the last remaining wild open spaces for future generations, local communities and for nature itself. The remote wilderness ecosystems in which we operate inspire our designs and motivate us to deliver the most visually and physically sensitive, lightweight fabric habitats imaginable.

Tenthouse Structures design studio operates according the the simple principal that perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. It’s one reason we are a proud member of the Green Building Council SA.

The range and depth of knowledge, expertise, length of experience, and awareness that Tenthouse Structures brings to wilderness construction is a rare and unrivaled commodity. It is this distinction that brings weight to bear on their iconic wilderness construction projects, remarkable not only for their inimitable designs, but for their considered and enduring construction approach.

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Contact

Stay Connected.

Please reach out to us for more information
about any of our #madeforthewild products or services.

Cape Town Office

18 Natal Street
Paarden Eiland
Cape Town, 7405
South Africa

+27 (0)21 461 2974

Email us

Singapore Office

3 Phillip Street #14-05
Royal Group Building
Singapore, 048693
Republic of Singapore

+65 3159 5300

Email us
Contact

Site Design & Content, Hosting & Maintenance: Done By Dutch

Site Design & Content, Hosting & Maintenance: Done By Dutch