Traditional buildings skills in stone laying, woodworking, wood carving, thatching and plastering are very good in Zimbabwe and contractors are more willing than those in the UK to experiment with new building methods. We arranged for bricks to be manufactured on site. Not only were these cheaper, they would have make Lewerentz envious, and they make use of the largely unemployed local labour force.
Our advice is to visit Zimbabwe and tour the countryside to get a feel for the local architecture and building skills. The tropical light casts strong shadows and fades painted surfaces. And the landscape is as diverse as local stones and timbers.
Zimbabwe, as with most of Commonwealth Africa, has planning and building regulations modelled on the British system. To work on public commissions you need to work with a locally recognised architect who signs certificates (www.zim-spec.co.zw has details).
Regulations apply more in cities and large towns. Rural councils are less concerned with building styles and regulations although, in some regions, local political approvals are necessary. Competition is strong for public buildings and local practices are given priority.
Site supervision can be difficult if based in the UK. We used ‘design and build’ using internet connections. To date, this has been rewarding. But be warned, the building process is slow. Time biannual site visits for when the sun passes directly overhead in October and March.