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T&B Log Homes South Africa in Timber IQ Magazine

T&B Log Homes in South Africa bag a winner with a Cover Story on their Samoan project.

Read the article below, or download the PDF.

Log Homes South Africa

A Samoan Odyssey

Having recently completed the Aga Reef Resort in Lalomanu, Samoa, T&B Log Homes South Africa quite literally go to the ends of the earth for their clients.

T&B Log Homes, world leaders in heavy solid log homes and buildings, based in Knysna, South Africa, have been designing, supplying and constructing solid log structures for 30 years. From humble beginnings and a limited product range, this company has evolved to offer complete turnkey solutions, and operate worldwide. T&B Log Homes offer various products and options to market, using a variety of building methodologies, including solid log structures, timber frame, SIP panels, concrete, stone, brick and mortar, and a combination of same, where required.


David Simpson, CEO of T&B Log Homes says, “Our clientele still want the warm natural feel of timber, but they also want the option of a more modern ‘look and feel,’ both inside and outside. In order to accommodate this, we have had to adapt to changes in market trends, styles and demands, along with the multitude of new finishes and ‘mod-cons’ available on the market.” He adds, “We are still happy to design and construct a traditional log home, but the secret to our longevity and success is that we have embraced the changes in demand, which has made us more flexible and adaptable to every possible situation.”


T&B are still actively involved in the residential market; however, by virtue of their flexibility and logistical skill set, the better part of the last 10 years have been spent working in the hotel and resort market on various projects across the globe. One such project is the Aga Reef Resort in Lalomanu, Samoa.


EARLY BEGINNINGS
T&B Log Homes South Africa receive numerous enquiries for projects of various sizes, shapes, and locations on a daily basis and were quite surprised to receive an enquiry from Samoa, considering their proximity to New Zealand, a country that offers a fairly extensive range of good quality timber solutions.


However, in keeping with T&B Log Homes’ culture, every enquiry, no matter how big or small, receives maximum attention and effort. This was the beginning of a very rewarding and exciting adventure and the creation of the Aga Reef Resort.


PLANNING, PRELIMINARY DESIGNS & CONTEXT
Initial discussions and the preliminary design brief were handled via email correspondence, and once initial scope and budgets were established, T&B undertook the very long ‘trek’ to meet the client and view the site.

The site is located on the sea edge on the main island of Samoa on the opposite side of the island to Apia, their capital city and main sea port. It initially had entry level structures for ‘backpacker’ type accommodation, but was totally destroyed by the last tsunami that struck Samoa.


Samoa has a strong interest in and opportunity for tourism, mainly from the Australasian market, but there is a vast shortage of hotel beds with only three medium-sized hotels and a few boutique guest house-type establishments on the main island.


Simpson says, “Our site was comprised of a fairly large and relatively flat section along the sea edge, as well as a manmade island just off shore accessed by, at the time, a very rickety timber pedestrian bridge on concrete piles. The island section included a rock sea wall forming a tidal swimming pool, as well as natural ‘turtle pond’ all of which augured well for some real ingenuity to make maximum use of all areas.”


“Samoa and its people are a very traditional, warm, accommodating, and family-orientated, with strong cultural influences, and the project owner and client was no different; he understood the complexities of the challenge that lay ahead and contributed a strong supporting role through all aspects of the project.”

DESIGN BRIEF & DEVELOPMENT
The client wanted to create something unique that was an attraction in itself, upmarket, but with some Samoan culture and influence and basically gave the T&B Log Homes team carte blanche with design concepts and themes, as the interior design team had not yet been appointed. “This resulted in some serious ‘head scratching’ from our side,” says Dave, “but once we knuckled down, it all started to come together fairly swiftly.”


Samoa does not have much in terms of natural resources for construction materials and just about everything is imported for this purpose.


It was for this reason that T&B Log Homes’ scope of supply was for a complete supply, including all joinery fittings, plumbing, sanitary ware, electrical equipment, appliances, light fittings, etc., except interior décor, which was ultimately handled by the client in conjunction with a New Zealand-based design company.

SCOPE INCLUDED:
• Minimum of 30 rooms in a combination of luxury stand-alone villas and hotel block style rooms including some family suites
• 1 VIP suite with private plunge pool
• Reception, restaurant, lounge and bar area
• Swimming pool and sun deck
• Small spa
• Entrance portal and gate house
• Service area and stores
• Island bar and sun deck around turtle pond
• Reconstruction of island access walkway
• Back-of-house structures on island and mainland
• Design of bulk services including:
• Rainwater harvesting, treatment and delivery
• Sewer reticulation, treatment and management
• Electrical reticulation, power supply and standby power system


By virtue of its South Pacific location, Samoa has a fairly long rainy season with very heavy rainfall, making working conditions over this period almost impossible, and a set completion date was given to ensure opening at the beginning of their tourist season in October, so the allotted construction period was very short.


CONSTRUCTION DESIGN & MANUFACTURING
“A true ‘kit supply’ is another rhetorical issue not too dissimilar to the old rate/m2,” says Simpson, “but we believe with our experience and evolution over the years, we have near perfected this art to the point that we strive to ensure that on-site construction is an assembly of processed and finished components and not a construction of loose materials supplied. This meant that the global T&B Log Homes system was the perfect application for the project at hand.”

For all T&B Log Homes’ projects, the design department develops a complete set of drawings, including architectural, manufacturing, and detailed assembly drawings. All components are referenced on the drawings and labeled accordingly in the factory, so that on-site assembly is easy and ‘getting it wrong’ is hard to do. This approach cuts a substantial chunk out of the construction time on site, and is ultimately to the client’s benefit, especially when it comes to the hotel/resort situation, where quickly completed projects mean that revenue streams are effected sooner than would be expected using conventional means of construction.

Cognizance was taken of climatic conditions in Samoa and its possible effect on the timber. However, Radiata Pine is historically stable and therefore not a major issue, but moisture content was as low as possible, so as not to compromise on permissible container weights.


Existing soil conditions provided good founding, and all structures were constructed on typical elevated timber floor structures on timber piles and base pads, allowing for total concealment of service reticulations and installations below each building.


The primary external wall structure used was the T&B Log wall system, using the ‘flat log’ profile. Windows were slightly problematic, as most windows in Samoa are old-style louver-type windows with an integrated external fly screen and the client insisted that this be maintained, so all windows had to be custom-made and the team ended up wiser for their efforts.


The rehabilitation of the island access bridge and ‘turtle pond’ sun deck provided some additional challenges, considering that the existing structures comprise a series of concrete beams and columns all of which are at different levels, spacings and angles.


These areas were carefully surveyed on the first site visit and through some ingenuity and pre-manufacturing allowing for some flexibility, the final installation was relatively simple with an aesthetically interesting and pleasing end result.


DESIGN THEME
In terms of design theme, the Samoan tradition is to have the majority of exposed structural elements carved with local markings, which is usually done prior to installation along with ornate rope wrappings at connections and junctions, which presented a challenge, because these skills are not readily available in South Africa.


Traditional roofs are palm thatched similar to the ‘Makuti’ roofs used in Mozambique, which, theoretically, was not a problem, as this could be locally sourced, but does require regular maintenance and replacement periodically. After much discussion with the client and the New Zealand interior design team, it was decided that the Samoan influence on the structures would be toned down, and rather to allow this to come through in the project décor.

The final decision was to limit the influence to key elements in a slightly modernized fashion, including exposed pole scissor trusses with grass matt vaulted ceilings and rope wrappings on connection points. Harvey Thatch tiles were used as the roof covering, and offered an attractive, modern take on the traditional grass roof covering.


Detailing and specifying finishes is time consuming and challenging when done via email with images and descriptions, because so much can be lost in translation. This was especially challenging, because materials and elements all have varying terminology and product names in different countries. However, the T&B Log Homes team persevered as far as possible, and it was then decided that the best course of action would be to construct a partial show house in their factory, covering all of the key elements with alternative options on hand, and have the client come over for an inspection and make final selections.


“The show house was a great success and within three days from the client’s arrival, we managed to review all aspects of the project, make final decisions, relevant price adjustments, and prepare and sign the final contract documents,” says Simpson.

LOGISTICS
Shipping materials to Samoa is a very costly affair, so to ensure that the budget was adhered to, T&B Log Homes concentrated aggressively on pre-manufacturing as much as possible, and aside from the usual pre-cut and labeled floor and external wall system, along with pre-hung doors, etc., the team went as far as pre-cutting to exact size, including pre-drilling fixing points for internal wall frames and custom pole roof trusses. This turned out to be a very effective and time-saving exercise on site.


After all ‘take-offs’ of materials was completed, detailed packing lists, including calculated mass and volume for each item, were prepared, providing the basis for good logistical planning. The Port of Apia in Samoa is slightly off the grid in terms of regular shipping routes from South Africa, rendering shipping costs a ‘tear-jerking’ affair to say the least, so it was imperative that each container achieved optimal mass and volume.


The predicament with exporting timber is that generally maximum permissible mass is achieved prior to volume, especially when using 12m containers, and in larger scale projects, this can be the cost difference between whether one secures a project or not. With good planning, T&B Log Homes managed to squeeze just over 400 tons of timber and product into a combination of eighteen 12m and 6m containers.


Goods were loaded and shipped in smaller batches of containers to make it more manageable for on-site handling and off-loading, but required some serious planning considering projected transit time was around 55 days ex Durban via Singapore and Tauranga in New Zealand, including vessel trans-shipments at each port. This area was effectively handled with very few hitches and containers were delivered timeously and in sequential construction order.

IMPLEMENTATION & OPERATIONS
Initial budgets provided for a complete supervision and labour force from T&B to construct the project, which was logistically a large portion of the budget, and with the global economic downturn at the time and exchange rate fluctuation, the client started looking for budget cuts. A subsequent trip to Samoa resulted in a partnership with a local contractor to provide the bulk of the work force, which wasn’t first prize in terms of the program and associated responsibilities, but T&B Log Homes’ pre-manufactured methodology is simple and geared for this application.


The Samoan workforce are not lacking in skill and were friendly and accommodating, with plenty of enthusiasm, but it was imperative that they understood the building methodology as quickly as possible. Once they realized how simple the assembly was going to be, they fell into a good rhythm, and the project was successfully completed and the hotel opened on time.

CONCLUSION
The entire experience for the T&B staff involved, irrespective of contractual dictation and obligation, was a re-education in respect, being pro-active in finding solutions, and taking action for the greater good of the project, ending in the smooth execution and completion of Aga Reef Resort.


The hotel is in successful operation and receiving only really good reviews. T&B are currently in discussion to supply and install an additional 20 hotel rooms in various forms, expecting to start shipping later this year to start construction start early in 2015.


NEWS: T&B have experienced a massive evolution over the past decade, including vast improvements to our existing product range and the addition of new products and services. We are currently busy with a total rebranding of the T&B Group to showcase our product offering in more detail. We are particularly excited about the launch of our new Revo post, rail and panel system, which we have been developing over the past two years. The Revo system carries the same quality and care mark as all other T&B products, and caters for the entry-level home building and DIY markets and has multiple use functionality, ranging from projects as small as timber homes or stores to hotels and resorts.