The Natural Vernacular Architecture of Africa.



These are examples of this 'vernacular' architecture from across Africa. Vernacular architecture evolves over time reflecting the characteristics of the local environment, climate, culture, natural materials, technology and the experience of centuries of community building.

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The Toposa are one of the biggest tribal groups living in the south eastern border area of South Sudan. They live in well organised villages, with different houses for dry and rainy season and granaries where they keep their food and valuables. This is a typical home called a tukel. The external structure is a temporary scaffolding for the thatcher. The framework of the home is built from many strands of small branches bound together with twine.




These are the vaulted adobe homes of the 15th century Ksar Ouled Debbab, southwest of the city of Tataouine, Tunisia. The homes were built alongside similar, but usually taller, granaries. The whole complex is a fortified settlement with only one entrance. The granaries kept food cool and dry behind the thick adobe walls and palm wood doors. The homes are similarly cool.


South Africa


The Basotho hut is slowly, but surely, being nudged out of the Lesotho landscape in South Africa by modern construction. With a roof of strong grass that lasts 20 to 30 years it keeps the inside cool during summer and traps heat during winter without a drop of water seeping through. This house is part of the Basotho Cultural Village where homes from the sixteenth century are displayed. 




These are clay Obos of the Musgum people in Pouss, Cameroon. They are designed in much the same way as the Turkish beehive homes in Harran, to provide efficient cooling in the baking heat. Both are designed with vents at the top of the building and small entrances with few, if any, windows. The high domes collect the hot air, moving it away from people sleeping at the bottom of the house keeping the interior around 75F (24C).




These are Dogon thatched clay granaries (store rooms) and homes in Songho, Mali. There are two types of Dogon granary, male and female. The larger male granaries are used for storing grains. Men distribute the grain, usually millet, for the day's cooking. The female granary is used for storing other foods but also personal things like jewellery, clothing and pottery.

Each granary is built from clay supported on rocks. The structures are raised off the ground to keep termites and rodents out. The roof is solid clay with a cap of straw thatch to keep the rain from washing away the clay. 




This is a traditional split bamboo plaited roundhouse by the Sidama people of Ethiopia. The dome, with its pointy top, is designed to shed heavy rainfall where a circular dome would have a flat region prone to leaks. Bamboo once played an important role in the rural economies of East Africa but indiscriminate clearing of natural bamboo forests have resulted in losing natural resources and many of the traditional building skills.




These are the homes of the Batammariba (meaning "those who model the earth") people, whose impressive earth tower homes, called takienta, have become a symbol of Togo.

Many of the buildings are two storeys high. Some of the buildings have flat roofs, others have conical thatched roofs. They are grouped in villages, which also include ceremonial spaces, springs, rocks and sites reserved for initiation ceremonies. UNESCO's video right gives more detail about these earthen homes.




This is an Igherm, a communal fortified granary, high in the Atlas Mountains in the Zawiya Ahansal region of Morocco. This one, some 400 years old, had fallen in to disrepair like many others in the region. It's made from stone and adobe brick and was restored in 2007 by local builders.
The Ighirmin, with ornate iron and wooden doors, are communally owned by the tribe providing every family in the village with a room to store grain.


Burkina Faso


These are the earthen homes of the Gurunsi in Burkina Faso. The men build the house and the women decorate the facades. All the figures have a symbolic meaning.

Round small houses 'dra' belong to young singles. The rectangular 'mangolo' with terrace belonging to young couples. The 'bilobées'  belonging to the older women and young children. The water used to clean shea butter, which ends up with an oily texture, helps to make the plaster water-proof.