In Ivory Coast, as in other West African countries, 55% of the energy is used to cool the houses. In a quest for modernity, African countries have copied European architecture based on concrete, which is expensive financially, but also ecologically because of the exploitation of sand that promotes coastal erosion. “The impact of the swell combined with the exploitation of marine materials (sand and gravel), promotes coastal erosion that would reach two meters per year. The consequences are multiple such as displacement of populations, destruction of infrastructure or fragile ecosystems such as mangroves … “, explains the Ivorian Ministry of the Environment in a report of the program of prevention of risks related to natural disasters in Ivory Coast.
80% of building materials are imported
Less than a hundred kilometers from Abidjan, in Assinie Mafia, Mahoua Fadika Delafosse lives in a house that is very different from those we are used to seeing in this seaside resort, which is mainly composed of second homes. “I didn’t see the point of locking myself in a concrete house with air conditioning all day. I wanted an African-inspired house that respected the environment,” she says. In Côte d’Ivoire, 80% of the materials used for construction are imported, according to the Ministry of Housing.
“Here it’s the opposite. Eighty percent of the materials are local, the rest comes only from recycled materials,” says Mahoua. In this large residence, the walls are made of earth and the tiles in the pool are recycled. “Before they even started building the house, they planted trees, setting aside the ones that were there to replace them later. Today, I’d like the house to disappear behind the vegetation so I keep planting,” she continues.
For a humanitarian and participative architecture in Africa
Can humanitarian architecture solve environmental or social crises?
How can a constructive process generate awareness and self-sufficiency in a rural context in Sub-Saharan Africa?
These are some of the questions to which the Italian-Senegalese humanitarian organization “Balouo Salo” finds answers, through the implementation of multidisciplinary design processes, in which the architectural component becomes a tool for training and empowerment of beneficiary communities.
Architecture also gives the opportunity to raise awareness of the international community to humanitarian issues and to launch young talents towards an ethical and respectful approach to the social and environmental crises that affect the contemporary world. This is the case of the international architecture competition “Kaira Looro” (translated into Mandinka as “Architecture for Peace”), promoted by Balouo Salo. The competition is an opportunity to seek answers to emergency problems through architectural design. According to Balouo Salo, architecture is not the definition of space or even the choice of materials or building technologies, but a process of responsibility and independence.
Bio-architecture draws heavily on traditional building methods using local resources. “The impact of the swell combined with the exploitation of marine materials (sand and gravel), promotes coastal erosion that would reach two meters per year. The consequences are multiple such as displacement of populations, destruction of infrastructure or fragile ecosystems such as mangroves … “, explains the Ivorian Ministry of the Environment in a report of the program of prevention of risks related to natural disasters in Ivory Coast.
In villages where the race for modernity has not yet arrived, earthen constructions meet the needs and constraints of the inhabitants. They are the inspiration for these architects who want to give Africans the possibility to live in comfort while respecting the environment.
Diebedo Francis Kere, first African to win the Pritzker Prize
Considered as the “Nobel Prize of architecture”, the Pritzker Prize is the highest award of the profession. Since its inception in 1979, no architect from the African continent had been awarded the precious sesame. This year, the award is a first in history since it is the Burkinabe Diébédo Francis Kéré, based in Berlin, who succeeds the French Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal.
“I hope to change the paradigm, to push people to dream and take risks. It’s not because you’re rich that you have to waste materials. It is not because we are poor that we should not try to create quality,” said Diébédo Francis Kéré in a statement. “Everyone deserves quality, everyone deserves luxury and everyone deserves comfort. We are connected and our concerns about climate, democracy and scarcity are concerns for all of us.” In a quest for modernity, African countries have copied European architecture based on concrete, which is expensive financially, but also ecologically because of the exploitation of sand that promotes coastal erosion.
The Pritzker Prize organizers salute his intellectual, social and architectural approach: “Thanks to his commitment to social justice and the intelligent use of local materials to adapt and respond to the natural climate, he works in marginalized countries, where constraints and difficulties are numerous and where architecture and infrastructure are absent.
The pioneer, who studied architecture in Germany, has made sustainability and social issues his vocation since the beginning of his career. One of his first projects was the construction of an elementary school in 2001, in which the entire population of Gando in Burkina Faso, his hometown, participated through a fundraising campaign. According to the Pritzker Prize organizers, this first construction “lays the foundation for his ideology: to build a source with and for a community in order to meet a basic need and correct social inequalities.
Attached to his origins and traditions of Burkina Faso, Diébédo Francis Kéré indeed honors Africa in his creations. The symbolism of this continent runs through all his works. Today, the first African architect to win the world’s highest honor in architecture, he had already been the first African architect to design the temporary Serpentine Pavilion in the heart of Hyde Park in 2017. The central shape evokes that of a baobab tree while the curved wall color evokes that of the boubou, the traditional garb he wore as a child.
It is also what he brings in terms of modernity and benevolence to the image of the profession that the Pritzker organization highlights: “In a world in crisis, crossed by different generations and changes in values, he reminds us of what has been and what will continue to be undoubtedly one of the cornerstones of architectural practice: the sense of community. […] In this it provides a narrative in which architecture becomes an enduring source of happiness and joy.