Construction sans bois

Best Practices. Earth-based architecture: a developing cultural industry

How to meet the needs of families while showing respect for the architectural traditions, the environment and its bio-climatic constraints?

Project philosophy

The NGO “Comitato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo dei Popoli” (CISP) in Niger has finished the activities of the project: “Earth-based architecture: a developing cultural industry” in 2014, two and a half years after its implementation. 80% of the funding was provided by the ACPCULTURES+ programme (Implemented by the Secretariat of the ACP Group of States and funded by the European Union). The project was co-managed by several partners of the sub-region: the Cabinet Adobe and the NGO Association Nigérienne de Construction Sans Bois in Niger (ANCSB); the Cabinet Architerre and the ONG Bâtisseurs Sans Frontières (BSF) in Mali, the NGO Development Workshop (DWBF) in Burkino Faso and the NGO Afrique Sans Frontières (ASF) in Cameroon, associated with the Boubou Hama National Museum (MNBH) and the Agence de Promotion des Entreprises et Industries Culturelles in Niger and the Ecole du Patrimoine Africain de Porto-Novo in Benin (EPA).

Why this project? First of all, to create the conditions for reflection and dialogue on patrimony and housing in Niger and the region. “CISP’s strategy in Niger is based on the approval of the project by the authorities, civil society and the population in order to enable the conditions for sustainable change of behaviour,” explains Sandro De Luca, the programme manager. “These exchanges led to an active network aiming at correcting the image of earth-based architecture amongst the general public and providing modern housing solutions that meet the needs of the families and respect their architectural traditions, the country’s environment and its bio-climatic constraints. The cultural patrimony represents a real opportunity for development in countries that encounter situations of acute poverty. These countries often have unexpected potential linked to the enhancement of their cultural goods. By pursuing it with thoughtful investments, jobs and income for the entire population and in particular for young people can be generated.”

From this perspective, the cultural industries are more and more important in the contemporary world in their different articulations: the creative industries, the conservation of techniques and traditions, the preservation and enhancement of cultural patrimony and monuments that deserve to be known and appreciated. It is not just a matter of protecting them by exclusively aiming at their conservation, but also a matter of considering them as a reservoir of potentialities to promote in order to provide solutions to the challenges of globalisation. Similarly, interventions in this field, especially when they are oriented towards civil society or those involved in the private sector, cannot ignore the reinforcement of the public institution’s capacities. They have a fundamental role in ensuring that this approach can become an integral part of the development strategies and the public policies that translate them into concrete actions.

Project objectives

The objective of the project “Earth-based architecture: a developing cultural industry” was to improve the economic, social and cultural conditions of the local populations by promoting and reinforcing Architecture with local materials as part of the “cultural industry”, in order to start a process of sustainable development.

The project was designed around six axes: a) an inventory of earthen architectural heritage; b) creation of teaching tools, c) construction and design of earthen architecture pavilion and construction of habitat prototypes within the MNBH d) organization of training for earthen architecture professionals; e) organize a series of conferencescalled "The morning of earthen architecture"; f) organization of the international conference"The week of earthen architecture".

A. Inventory. To enhance the existing heritage, ANCSB crossed Niger to compile a monograph on the subject. After training at CISP on identification and international standards for cataloguing buildings, a trained team of five professionals of ANCSB travelled through Niger’s eight regions to inventory the earth-based architectural heritage following an indicative – but not exhaustive – list of the sites and monuments of national interest. This monograph presents the wonders of Niger’s earthen patrimony and aims at disseminating this patrimony in order to conserve, class, restore and promote it by presenting a panel of Niger’s remarkable buildings and techniques. The same way, the partners in Mali, Burkina Faso and Cameroon have travelled across their countries to catalogue the earthen heritage and techniques that are used.

B. Educational tools. The project also made 6 documentaries. The purpose of the documentary is to inform the general public and professionals in the interest of earthen architecture and to train professionals in order to avoid misuse of materials. To complement the teaching tools, the project has made 50 scientific and experimental kits (moderator kit) for the animation of "discovery workshops".

C. Earthen Architecture Pavilion. To give high visibility to earthen architecture and knowledge of different construction techniques the project has built a pavilion of earthen architecture within the MNBH on the basis of an international ideas competition won by the Nigerian team "B Carré". This pavilion was constructed in two different implementation techniques, stabilized earth and mud. The pavilion ensures high visibility of the possibilities of construction techniques with local materials. The new pavilion enhances the existing exhibits within the MNBH as well as all the educational tools. They act as a pole of attraction to raise public awareness. The pavilion echoes similar buildings in other partner countries (e.g. Le Centre de l’Architecture en Terre à Mopti – Mali).

D. Training and schools and prototypes. To demonstrate the qualities and possibilities of earth-based housing, but also to train apprentices by professionals and masters of earth-based architecture, two prototype habitats have been built at the MNBH. These prototypes outline the different construction techniques with soil, stabilised soil and banco. The prototypes provide a contemporary habitat based on the local know-how and offering a two-storey accommodation. The upper floor allows its occupants not only to enjoy the cool air of the ventilated rooms and the mosquito nets for sleeping, but also to dry food protected from animals and soil moisture during the rainy season and to live separated from the animals. The aim is to encourage a change in people’s behaviour in order to reduce diseases as malaria and to offer decent housing at reduced cost. Furthermore, the project has designed a prototype of a multi-purpose hall for institutions to raise awareness amongst the decision makers on public use of these techniques as for the construction of school classes, clinics, cultural centres, centres for young people etc.

E. Conferences. Two and a half years of lectures / debates / exchanges (including visits open yards and houses built of mud) preceded the holding of the international conference "Earthen Architecture Week" in May 2014 in Niamey.

F. Symposium. The official inauguration of the three earth constructions within the MNBH marked the end of the conference. The purpose of the conference was to establish a network of earthen architecture professionals while supporting awareness, contributing to the preservation and enhancement of the architectural heritage and development of synergies between professionals and cooperation between countries. Based on the technical strengthening and entrepreneurship of the professional sector this network targeted skills transfer, innovation, creativity and development of appropriate technologies. This network will also meet the needs and expectations of a changing society and in particular create job opportunities in the sector.

The partners have also set up a temporary (touring in the 4 countries) and a permanent exhibition at the Boubou Hama National Museum in Niamey, Niger: “EARTHEN Architecture in Niger between past and FUTURE”.

The IPSC and its partners have been able to ensure that local authorities, civil society and the population take ownership of the project to enable the conditions for sustainable change of behaviour. These exchanges have led to an active network aiming at correcting the image of earth-based architecture amongst the general public and provide modern housing solutions that meet the needs of the families and respect their architectural traditions, the country’s environment and its bio-climatic constraints.


Two and a half years after its implementation, the project has delivered several remarkable results.

1. The region’s earth-based architectural patrimony has been inventoried and widely promoted amongst policy makers, professionals, architects and construction companies. The project has been widely approved by the authorities who confirmed their commitment in the cultural sector as a vector in the fight against poverty. The proof being the establishment of a Ministry of Culture in August 2013 and the co-founding supplied to the project by the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Leisure;

2. A pavilion of earthen architecture has been created and fitted out within the Boubou Hama National Museum in Niamey. Earth-based architecture did not have a good reputation in Niger, as it had the connotation of being “housing for poor people”. Building earth-based constructions has allowed to make many people realise the value of this material and to measure it, changing their mentalities and making them evolve;

3. The technical and entrepreneurial capacities of the earth-based architecture professional sector have been strenghtend. More than 100 contractors, around 1800 young people aged 10 to 20 and the masonry students of the apprentice trainee centres in Niger participated in the discovery workshops. New techniques were transmitted and assimilated (banco bricks and masonry, banco and gum arabic, bricks and CEB masonry, lime plaster, mud, Ayourou plaster, plaster);

4. The national and transnational networks on the topic of earthen architecture have been created and are now active, allowing wider cooperation between African countries. The enhancement of a shared memory and the knowledge of the traditions have contributed to the reinforcement of the social cohesion of the region’s countries.

The project has demonstrated that using banco and laterite, both available and local, as raw materials for construction can be the basis of modern housing, adapted to Sahelian conditions. In the past years, there has been increased research in the field of material and mixed techniques in Niger and countries facing similar bio-climatic and demographic problems. The results of this research could be put into a larger historical, political and cultural context, with the aim of stimulating the professional and interdisciplinary discussion on the following question: Where could earthen architecture, source of innovation, contribute to finding answers for a new housing concept requiring bio-climatic and environmentally friendly architecture?

The experiences gained in Niger and the examples of the neighbouring countries will strengthen the strategic choices of the decision makers and the commitment to improving the population’s lives to follow a consistent path in the face of the demographic, environmental and energy challenges. 

 For more "best practices" of the ACPCultures+ Program, visit THIS PAGE 

August 24, 2015
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