Semi-arid regions of Africa face unique obstacles in their efforts to address a growing housing crisis. For years people built roofs with bush timber, but thanks to climate change and deforestation, those building methods are no longer feasible. And sheet metal is simply too expensive for most rural families. So the Nubian Vault Association is bringing back an ages-old sustainable building material: mud bricks.
Back in 2000, Burkina Faso farmer Seri Youlou and Frenchman Thomas Granier started the association, which is also known by its French name Association La Voûte Nubienne (AVN). They resurrected what they call the Nubian Vault technique, or the process of constructing sturdy vaulted roofs with mud bricks similar to processes employed centuries ago in ancient Egypt. The brings are simply formed with earth and water and then dried in the sun. Houses with these vaulted roofs last for at least 50 years, or even more if they are well maintained. They’re also cheaper than tin or timber, and stay warm in cold weather and cool in warm weather.
The association also works for economic growth by training local apprentices and supporting village masons in multiple West African countries. They aim for a self-sustaining Nubian Vault market, and according to Curbed, their A Roof, A Skill, A Market program has made a $22 million economic impact. They’ve trained over 380 masons, with hundreds more learning as apprentices.
The group has now helped homeowners build over 1,800 homes across Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, and Senegal. A Nubian Vault home costs around $1,000, and families can lower costs by making their own mud bricks.
Not only has the technique helped put a roof over families’ heads and driven economic development, it’s benefited the environment as well. According to AVN, since September 2015 Nubian Vault homes have saved around 55,000 tons of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere.
Images via The Nubian Vault Facebook