In March, Barasa Ongeti discussed on the reasons steel frame construction is hardly used in Kenya’s construction. The article drew a lot of comments and discussions from our readers across the various forums where we shared the feature. We have sampled a few from the discussions on Facebook and LinkedIn groups.

Lucky Obioma – Chartered Quantity Surveyor (Qatar)

Fire Damage

One major disadvantage which you have not mentioned in your report is the inability of steel to withstand heat from fire for a long period (without losing its strength) when compared with concrete. Due to this reason, high rise steel framed buildings will collapse within few hours of being engulfed in fire unless the fire outbreak is promptly put out. In order to minimize this, steel beams and columns are usually sprayed with fire retardants during construction.

Kenya, being a developing country, may not have the required infrastructure to respond to fire emergencies and put out fire outbreak at a high rise steel framed building. I think this is the most overriding factor why steel framed high rise buildings are not common in Kenya in addition to high cost of steel fabrication as you rightly mentioned.

Warehouse Construction

In a typical warehouse construction, steel frame has advantage over concrete because much longer spans required in a warehouse construction can easily be achieved with steel.

However, you are correct on all other advantages you have listed in your write-up. It’s a brilliant report.

 

Ayodeji Gabriel – Quantity Surveyor at Hammakopp Consortium, Nestoil Group (Nigeria)

Steel frame are rare not only in Kenya but in the whole Africa and the whole developing world at large. The reasons for this include:

Technology – Steel work is not mason work, Steel framing requires higher technology for construction and maintenance that may not be easily available in the developing countries like Kenya as compared to US and other advanced countries. Lack of new technologies in steel fabrication and construction made development in steel work very restricted to few area and few people.

Materials – Availability of materials and cost

 

Stone K – Senior Technical Project Officer Q.S at Microprojects (Swaziland)

 I stand to be corrected, but I think it could be also the fact that we as a people (Africans) are sceptical to change. We prefer to play it safe and stick to the tried and tested technologies, especially masonry. You can have a fabulous steel concept only for the client to turn it down as she/he has not seen such concept. Maybe that is one of the reasons why even the steel mills supply the quality that is in demand. Their sole mandate is to make money, so it wouldn’t make sense to fabricate “high standard” steel for it sit in their warehouses for the one Client in 3 years who will come looking for that type of steel. Innovation is the word missing in our vocabulary.

 

Kamau Steve (Nairobi)

The biggest challenge with steel-framed buildings is precision entailed on the brackets sizes, bolt holes. Apart from Steel Structures Ltd (SSL) we do not have other company with the capacity of CAD/CAM at design and fabrication level. Even SSL had to import CAD Modellers for their factory. The other challenge is availability of steel (I-beams, channels etc) most of the local rolling mills are into small steel section if not rebars only

 

Eric Kigada (Architect, Nairobi)

Steel is currently cheaper than concrete structures due to a slowdown of demand from China. My experience of why Kenya does not build a lot of structures using steel is because our structural engineers are not ready to spend time calculating and checking the steel structures. This is in contrast to concrete has typical details and legacy work so you do not need to do a lot. Most Kenyan engineers leave the “design” work to the fabricator who incidentally are in the business of selling steel. Fireproofing steel is not an issue. What we need is firms that can produce steel solutions even for small houses and not really be sellers of steel per kilo.

I build using steel a lot. Right now I am building an 11 storey high steel structure. Steel prices are based on iron ore demand. Location does not matter. Steel prices are the same worldwide. China gets its iron ore from Australia. You can get steel members from India, South Korea, Germany, USA, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt & Turkey. All you need is low energy costs to transform the iron ore to steel. Currently, China’s construction demand is slowing down which is the main reason steel prices worldwide are going down. We last saw this when the Olympics was hosted. Steel prices dropped once the Olympics construction was complete. Oil has nothing to do with steel prices. My experience here in Kenya with clients is that most will only use what they know. Steel is cheap right now and you can build a house cheaply using a steel frame & slab on deck, but like I said before, our steel fabricators are in the business of selling steel. Which means they will not optimise steel profiles, but will sell to you oversized members since you pay them per kilo.

 We are very grateful for constructive discussions that this gave rise to. Have your say too. We welcome one and all.

Steel frame construction

Sifa Towers under construction [credit: youjenzi.com]