What have been BETAR's most important projects over the past two decades?
We designed the Tete Bridge over the Zambezi River and have constructed numerous other bridges, roads, and buildings. We have also worked a great deal in rail for the Sena line, where we had to replace some of the old rail bridges. We designed the new headquarters for Banco Comercial e de Investimentos (BCI) in Maputo, and continue to do engineering projects beyond construction or architectural work. We specialize in structural and electrical engineering, sewers, hydraulics, and related ventures. We also have a supervisory role in projects, in addition to acting as project managers and designing. We have completed a good number of buildings, not only in Maputo, but all over the country.
Can you tell us specifically about the Katembe new urban area project?
We started the Katembe Project about eight years ago. We were working with the government to find the best solution for urban expansion in Maputo. The city is in a difficult location from a geographic standpoint, with a river to the south and the sea to the west making any expansion problematic. We started by working on a new bridge connecting the south of Maputo, but it became apparent we could not do the work without also taking care of the urban area of Katembe. We had to develop a wider project, including designing roads and the bridge, as well as urban planning for the new area of Katembe. This is the best project in Africa for three reasons: Maputo's city center is close to the river and the new city center is just five minutes away; the bridge is already under construction and will be finished between 3Q2017 and 1Q2018; and the urban planning scheme we developed with a large team is ready to go, two years before the bridge will be completed. It is unusual for planning to be completed so successfully here in Mozambique. The idea is to create a city for 400,000 people, and work has to start now because the bridge will be ready in two years and we are racing against the clock. Mozambique has a growing population, and Katembe will be a city that welcomes everyone. The middle class in Mozambique is not able to afford housing. Therefore, this is a fantastic opportunity to build houses that Mozambicans can actually afford. In addition, South Africa is only one hour away and many South Africans would love a second house in Mozambique, so that is a market we are also going to tap into. The project is sound and there are good reasons for Maputo to grow. There is a market both within and outside of the country, so if we work toward that then success is assured.
What are the nuances of creating a new city from scratch?
The disadvantage of creating a city from scratch is that we have to be careful not to dehumanize it. The task for architects and engineers is to focus on the lifestyle of Mozambicans and to design a real city for them. Maputo itself is a well-planned city. From a planning point of view, it is one of the best cities on the continent. We have to be sensitive to the heritage of Maputo while planning using modern methods. We have learned from past errors. We are not going to make a central business district; we want a city where residents are not segregated. All the areas will be mixed-use spaces, with some offices and some residential. More importantly, we also do development by the book. All the legal requirements are met, including environmental impact studies, public consultations, and so forth. We truly believe this is the best project in Africa and that within a decade it will completely change Maputo. It will be an even better and nicer Maputo on the other side of the river.