West Africa’s Roof, A Skill, A Market wins UN-Habitat prestigious award

The project revives an ancient architectural approach to overcome the problem of unsuitable materials being used for roofs in houses in the Sahel.

A Roof, A Skill, A Market in West Africa and More than Housing in Switzerland have won 2016-17 World Habitat Awards. The winning projects received their trophy at the 26th session of the Governing Council of UN-Habitat at the United Nations office in Nairobi, Kenya.

The prestigious award was established in 1985 by the Building and Social Housing Foundation in partnership with the UN-Habitat. Each year two awards are given in conjunction with UN-Habitat to projects that provide practical, innovative, solutions to current housing needs, with a particular focus on decent, affordable, adequate and sustainable housing.

The yearly World Habitat Awards are a great way of identifying, celebrating and promoting good practice in housing projects that seek to further affordability and sustainability in housing globally.

A Roof, A Skill, A Market operates across five West African countries in the Sahel training hundreds of local people to create vaulted roofs using sun-dried mud bricks. This technique replaces unsuitable materials often used for housing and has resulted in over 2,000 homes being more affordable and comfortable.

This project revives the ancient Egyptian architectural approach of using sun-dried mud bricks to create vaulted roofs. These replace the problem of unsuitable materials often used for houses in the Sahel. The Nubian Vault Association works through pan-African collaborations and knowledge exchanges between a wide range of actors in order to spread this approach across several Sahelian countries.

The project revives an ancient architectural approach to overcome the problem of unsuitable materials being used for roofs in houses in the Sahel. Traditionally house roofs were timber framed, but deforestation and the increasingly arid environment led to a scarcity of timber. In its place metal girders, concrete and sheet metal were used. These provide poor heat insulation, have to be imported at great expense and have high embodied energy.

The project started in Burkina Faso but has spread to other parts of Western Africa including Mali, Senegal, Benin, and Ghana.The Nubian Vault Association works through pan-African collaborations and knowledge exchanges between a wide range of actors (masons, project leaders and key stakeholders) in order to progress the work at a regional level and learn from different experiences.

Since its inception, the association has housed 24,000 beneficiaries in five countries, trained 440 masons and 400 apprentices, contributed 2.4 million euros (USD $2.6 million) to local economies and saved an estimate of 65,000 tons of CO2 equivalent (calculated over a 30-year lifespan of the building).

The core target group for the programme are rural populations of West Africa, living on less than USD $2 per day and outside formal economies. But, the concept is flexible and appropriate for various uses and types of clients: urban and rural, private and community, low and high income. The association adapts the technical research undertaken in order to adjust their offer and techniques to these differing variety of needs.

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