African Vernacular Architecture- Be Practical
There is a lot of talk about African Vernacular Architecture recently. Many people are saying there should be more of this in Africa and to not keep buildings western styles architecture in Africa. Some say, these new buildings are flawed, especially for the region. Vernacular architecture is all well and good, but there is a time and place for it and a lot of the time its not practical.
What is ‘Vernacular Architecture’?
Vernacular Architecture is beautiful architecture that is made from local materials and local building techniques and structure that has been used for generations. The style is sustainable architecture at its best. It usually serves simple local needs and is made from local materials by local workmanship. Its not a styles traditionally used by professionally educated architects. Vernacular architecture is simple buildings, made by locals.
The House made by the Maasai Tribe in Northern Tanzania and Kenya is a typical example. Constructed by the women in the tribe, the houses are made from sticks, grass, mud and cow dung. It does the job fantastically. The material no only keeps the house cool, it only takes a couple of weeks to build and its long lasting.
There is a time and place – be practical with African Vernacular.
You can talk all day long about why we need more Vernacular architecture in Africa. Why its better and why we need more of it. There is a lot of talk that Africa should not be copying western style architecture for new buildings. But please be practical. It is okay for small projects like housing but in the city, people dont want that.
Companies and developers want modern buildings to attract western clients. This is what people want. If you required a 50 story apartment or office building on a tight site, African Vernacular is not realistic or practically o be achievable. Africa is is not Denmark, Finland or California, you can build multi story modern buildings out of wood just yet. There are no resources to do this. Practical materials like concrete are used because there is nothing else that does the job easier, quicker or better. You can’t expect to build a 20 story building out of cow dung and grass.
The Way forward
What architects and builders can do is echo the style and meaning of African vernacular. Incorporate ideas and themes into the design. There are many architects like Francis Kéré who is pioneering an approach to sustainable architecture, which has an African style of architecture by throwing it in with modern materials and style. For example, you can take the traditional style Makuti roof and modern that out of steel. In this case, you can span the size much further. Old techniques for a modern theme.
Russell M. Henderson is a practicing RIBA Chartered Architect based in Tanzania, East Africa.
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