Pioneering the multi-storey Steel building technology in Kenya
Since its inception in 1977, Zenith Steel Fabricators has evolved from a small fabrication workshop to become a pioneer in multi-storey steel building technology, Construction Review spoke to Raheem Biviji who is at the helm of the company
Raheem Biviji was excited by a new building technology that he saw while studying civil engineering in the United Kingdom. However, the multi-storey building technology as he would later learn had been used in Europe since the 1930s.
Contrary to using reinforced cement concrete , in multi-storey steel building, the structure is designed and assembled in the workshop and then later while on site, the steel is fixed to come up with the desired building.
Buildings made of steel frame are known to take a shorter construction period. This is because most of the materials used are designed and assembled in a workshop ready for installation. The minimum onsite labour and the short period taken by the project translate to lower costs of construction. In addition due to the strength of steel, fewer columns are erected when setting up the structure because steel allows for longer spans than concrete.
For instance, it took seven months for the structural steelwork frame to be completed for one of the projects designed by Zenith Steel Fabricators that is the Sifa Towers. Eventually it took one-and half-years for the whole building to complete; including the civil works, interior design, plumbing and electricals.
The architectural wonder of Sifa Towers is based on the shape of a Hyperbolic Parabolic Curve. The building appears shaped despite the use of multi-storey steel system in its construction. The iconic structure is an ultra-modern commercial complex with 11 floors. The building is located in Hurlingham along Lenana road.
On the other hand, the Kithiki tower in Mombasa, also erected by Zenith Steel Fabricators is one of the sturdiest buildings in Kenya today. Raheem offers that it is a trend that is gaining pace in Kenya as it seeks to replace brick and mortar.
Using the same steel technology, in Tanzania, Zenith has constructed a one of a kind multi-storey building. The Quality Centre in Dar es Salaam that was constructed using this technology houses Uchumi Supermarket. With over 70 shops and restaurants under one roof, Quality Centre is one of Dar es Salaam’s biggest shopping malls and is set to make a difference in shopping and relaxation in Tanzania. In the pipeline is Africab buiding also in Tanzania.
This is how it is done
The process of a multi-storey building starts by laying the foundation first by the civil contractor. This serves as the grounds of the steel columns, which are erected vertically.
Once the columns are set up, primary steel beams are placed horizontally. Another layer of beams is added to form a grid. The fifth step involves drilling of steel floor decking sheets to the grid to get the building’s first floor.
The flooring is done by steel decking sheets. They are strong and of high intensity making them resistant to cracking, warping or splitting. They are never affected by changes in temperature or humidity and can even withstand earthquakes.
After the decking sheet layer, concrete is spread on it.
The process of erecting columns and laying beams is repeated for the remaining floors to have a building’s steel frame.
With efforts to conserve the environment and especially trees in top gear, the technology comes in handy. Kenya has a very low forest cover and environmentalists have been urging the government to embrace afforestation and forest conservation.
According to Raheem, adopting multi-storey steel construction is one way of reducing the use of timber during construction.
The beauty of building using steel is that the steel can be recycled and re-used.
The technology is eco-friendly especially considering that Africa is being urged to go green in a bid to conserve the environment.
Kenyans have been concerned over steel being prone to corrosion due to rust. However Raheem says that all precautionary measures have been put in place to ensure the safety of buildings. He reveals that a special paint is applied on the steel to ensure that it is not affected by rust.
With recent collapsing of buildings in Kenya, Raheem recommends use of steel in construction as a way of enhancing their strengths. It is a technology that comes handy especially in the wake of collapsing buildings. In Kenya for example, officials from the National Construction Authority have been forced to halt construction on sites due to safety reasons. Additionally, the officials noted that contractors used poor quality building material.
According to Raheem contrary to concrete where a contractor has less control on the quality of construction , in steel building quality is assured.
Zenith is also engaged in offering affordable housing using alternative building materials in Kenya.
Apart from being instrumental in constructing commercial buildings, Zenith is also helping in the construction of residential structures in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kericho and Eldoret.
A leading steel fabrication company and ISO 900:2008 certified company; Zenith started its operations in 1977 as a small fabrication workshop. However over the years, the workshop emerged to be a magnificent company that is taking the fabrication industry by storm managing to get several jobs. Currently, Zenith operates in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Rwanda, Southern Sudan, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ghana.
The company specializes in the erections of go-downs, stadia, petrol stations, churches, towers and bridges.
Although the uptake of the multi-storey steel building technology is impressive in the country, a a weak shilling is derailing the pace at which Zenith steel fabricators intends to grow.
“We import the steel. Obviously if the shilling is weak it means that we get the material at a higher cost and this determines the ultimate cost of a building,” explains Raheem.
But this has not deterred the company from remaining afloat in an industry that is gripped with stiff competition. Zenith’s top notch design mind, blowing innovations, the adoption of computer Aided Designs and newly launched state-of-art automized steel fabrication processing plant has continued to ensure that the company remains top in the market.
Raheem now urges Kenyans to fully embrace the use of steel in construction adding that contrary to timber that can be destroyed by fire, steel is fire resistance. Additionally, he says that steel does not promote the growth of moulds.
In the near future, Raheem discloses, Zenith plans to spread its wings not only in East Africa but also across the African continent and beyond.