Not far from Ukunda airstrip and off the Ukunda-Ramisi road sits a little known factory called the Me-Moringa EPZ Ltd. Well, this is where the Me-Moringa products are manufactured. The premises are housed in a stunningly beautiful row of buildings.
It is the first thing that hits you when you are well past the gate and row of Moringa plantation. The notable big pale pink, white- washed buildings in the distance. They draw one to themselves.
Up close, you realise it is the use of coral stone as an exterior wall finish that gives the buildings the unassuming detail that leaves its impact with a tone of seriousness and nobility while still maintaining a natural look.
For the owners, it was an aspect to their construction design that grew partly from the climatic conditions and partly because it was predominantly a locally available material.
“I saw it and was instantly attracted to it. We wanted to make this place as authentically coastal as we could, but with an added heat-reduction effect,” says Jeanne Ngo Yockbag, a Cameroonian, who co-owns the business with her husband.
She says they wanted to maintain the beauty of the coral, so there have been no alterations to the pieces of stone that have been used as to form decorative stonework.
“Beneath the coral we built the house using bricks just like any ordinary house, then after the masonry work we brought in the coral as decorative finish instead of plastering or painting,” she lets on.
But why not just build the house purely with the coral stone?
“As we were enquiring about the stone we learnt that there is a certain way we would have to build it to prevent it from causing us trouble in future,” says Yockbag. “Apparently, it is very porous, meaning it could soak in water when it rains.”
It has been suggested that cavity construction might stop water soaking in. But this natural feature is also what makes coral a good heat resistant stone.
Besides, the appearance of the unrendered natural stone is far pleasanter than a plastered surface.
Exhibiting a range of warm reddish pink hues, from pale pink to deep red and white washed façade, the stone is without any doubt a neutral element in decoration that yields an attractive sheen.
Coral stone is similar to other types of natural stone and is a derivative of coral in the sea that is no longer biologically active. The sedimentary rock is quarried from the bedrock and coastal reef and has traditionally been widely used as a building material. The hard skeleton of coral branches is naturally matte, but can be polished to a glassy shine.
The coral stone comes in several colours, each of them with different densities and strength.
The craftsmanship detail by Albert Mwadiga, the head of construction at the premises, is so skillful and the stones sculpted to look like the scallop shell are connected with such precision that elicit a distinct seaside charm.
Mwadiga says he used about 100,000 tonnes of the stone that costs around Sh30,000 per tonne.
“It is a material that can be worked on and repaired to perfection,” he notes. “But this particular type is very hard to come by because it is only found in some selected quarries and even in those quarries it is found in very special places, making it more expensive than the ordinary, almost dirty-red coral stone which is found in abundance and more commonly used around,” he points out.
“We got these from Tiwi in Ukunda,” he says.
The stones were bound to the wall using ordinary cement.
Nothing speaks of the durability of the coral like Fort Jesus in Mombasa. In fact most of the buildings in Old Town are constructed using coral stones.
“ Fort Jesus, built by the Portuguese in 1593-1596 and designed to protect the port of Mombasa, is one of the most outstanding and well preserved examples of the history of use of the coral stone in construction. The fort’s walls were made of coral stone for structural stability.
But beyond use for construction of the material in walls, coral stones, considered to be the most slip-resistant of all the natural stones, even when wet, has become quite popular as a flooring material.
The stone allows for several other types of finishes like rustic, honed, aged and split, among others.
Coral stones come in many different shades like coral, golden, sunny and golden pigments.
Classic Mouldings, a stockist of floorings in Nairobi, recently started carrying the brushed and honed version of the stone.
“It is perfect for exterior floorings, not just because of its beauty but also because of its thermal properties. Coral has inherent capability to keep the floor cool even in scorching heat,” says Classic Mouldings’ CEO Moshe Noiman.
He adds, “It’s a favourite for use around swimming pool areas because under the burning sun one can walk comfortably barefoot over it without fear of it heating.”
That is why it is preferred for use in constructing pool decks, showers, jacuzzi areas, gardens, walls, and interiors of beach houses.
Vipingo Ridge Beach Club is a good example of a premise that has predominantly made use of the material, especially around their pools.