Sankofa House
Abetenim, Ghana
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A learning by doing workshop organized by M.A.M.O.T.H. to build

image: M.A.M.O.T.H. | CC-BY-ND_black.png some rights reserved
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Category:
housing
Phase:
in use
Updated:
4 June 2021
introduction

In August 2015, NKA Foundation organizes a call for ideas and an international architectural competition to promote its activity on the sites that it occupies in Burkina Faso and Ghana. The “Mud Hut Competition 2014, reinventing the African mud hut together” is a competition open to young architects who think that earthen architecture, with strong traditional and rural connotation, can be beautiful and innovative. The subject, a family-housing unit built for less than $ 8,000, must help the rehabilitation of traditional building techniques and promote local expertise and skilled workers. In this competition, ten projects are selected, the first three are offered the opportunity to come and build in the village of Abetenim, in central Ghana, in the Ashanti kingdom, their prototype. M.A.M.O.T.H. offers then the Sankofa House (competition1st prize), a rewriting of the traditional Ghanaian house. Inspired by the recognizable silhouettes of Ashanti’s buildings (West African population living in Ghana), the association draws a courtyard building with sloping roofs and colorful facades. The project emphasizes the use of available resources and employment to local artisans. Because the topic is about producing an habitat designed for Ghanaian families, the design is simple, practical and economical. The global climatic approach, in addition to a good orientation of the building on site, is simply to rediscover the thermal properties of materials such as earth and natural fibers.

cultural and social context

In Ghana, as in many countries in West Africa, stereotypes persist on earth construction and its symbol and image of the poor farmer’s house. Yet this ancient architecture was quickly abandoned in favor of more «modern» constructions made of cement blocks and other industrial materials that are not only very expensive because mostly imported from abroad, but also thermally very unsuited to tropical climate so particular this region of the world. Today, in cities until bush villages, cement has become indispensable in spite of its price and poor quality and the increasingly high cost of these materials makes homeownership for low-income families almost impossible. However, in Abetenim and as in many other villages in Ghana, almost all of the houses (98%) are built with local red earth, available in large quantities and free, the laterite. These houses often «cobbled together» years after years or just not maintained are severely damaged each rainy season. The ruined buildings punctuate the everyday landscape of these communities that can no longer imagine this earthen architecture as efficient, safe and sustainable. Craftsmen who have turned to industrial materials used in major projects in the region have gradually forgot skills and know-how. Unfortunately concrete structures, even built sometimes less than ten years, are beginning to deteriorate rapidly too in this extreme climate, or because of inappropriate design, such as the recurrent use of flat roofs «as in Europe «or by negligence on the quality of concrete, the coating of steels, structural design ...

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materials and building techniques

The lateritic soil

The laterite or red earth is available everywhere in Ghana and many other African countries. Present on the project site it is directly recovered from the excavations. This clay-sandy earth possesses sufficient cohesion to build walls. For the wattle and coco fibers have been added to this soil.

 Coco fibers

Coco fiber is a resource available in large quantities on the territory. Stored in compressed boots she traditionally used as fuel. However, once sorted it is a very good fiber for construction with strands thin and flexible from 3 to 15 cm. Another advantage, it is not appreciated by termites.

Atakpamé

Atakpamé is a pure manual construction technique. The only tools necessary for its implementation are the hands of the craftsman. With his fingers he carves, shapes and molds the walls of the house. This technique is economic, ecological and social and represents a fine example of what skill and intelligence of the hand are able to do.

Stones

To save cement, far too expensive in Ghana, the foundations were stone made. These come from a nearby quarry. The masonry of rocks with a cement mortar protects the building from the rain and the capillarity rising up into the wall. It also avoid too much insects ans animals inside.

The timber

The timber is a renewable but fragile resource. Because of the growing deforestation in the country, there is a real lack of quality wood for construction. The authorities are trying to regulate illegal logging cuts is common. Also the carpenters work with fresh parts and often rarely exceeding four meters long.

Cement “when it is necessary”

With regular violent winds in the area there must be a good anchoring of the timber frame with the walls. A high ring beam made of reinforced concrete helps consolidate the earthwork and simplifies the installation of the frame by leveling the walls.

earth and climate

The building is a single volume, oriented North / South. Large covered outdoor areas are managed around a central courtyard that reminds traditional housing. The light structure of terraces creates ventilated spaces refreshing the inside. With the idea of producing a replicable building and adaptable to the needs of the inhabitants, the bioclimatic solutions are simple, the high inertia of the walls allows to store the coolness and humidity of tropical nights, the large internal volume and ventilated roof keep a low indoor temperature while a rainwater recovery system is set at the junction of two roofs. The shape of the Sankofa House, largely inspired by Ashanti built heritage with its successions of sloping roofs in the landscape that draws a “skyline” so special, generates an appreciable thermal comfort compared to cement brickwork with flat roofs.

Sankofa House Section

image: M.A.M.O.T.H. | CC-BY-ND_black.png some rights reserved
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Sankofa House Section

image: M.A.M.O.T.H. | CC-BY-ND_black.png some rights reserved
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image gallery
Sankofa House

image: M.A.M.O.T.H. | CC-BY-ND_black.png some rights reserved
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Sankofa House

image: M.A.M.O.T.H. | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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Sankofa House

image: M.A.M.O.T.H. | CC-BY-ND_black.png some rights reserved
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Sankofa House

image: M.A.M.O.T.H. | CC-BY-ND_black.png some rights reserved
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Sankofa House

image: M.A.M.O.T.H. | CC-BY-ND_black.png some rights reserved
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Sankofa House

image: M.A.M.O.T.H. | CC-BY-ND_black.png some rights reserved
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Sankofa House

image: M.A.M.O.T.H. | CC-BY-ND_black.png some rights reserved
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Sankofa House

image: M.A.M.O.T.H. | CC-BY-ND_black.png some rights reserved
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Sankofa House

image: M.A.M.O.T.H. | CC-BY-ND_black.png some rights reserved
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technical drawings
Sankofa House Board

image: M.A.M.O.T.H. | CC-BY-ND_black.png some rights reserved
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Sankofa House board

image: M.A.M.O.T.H. | CC-BY-ND_black.png some rights reserved
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Sankofa House

image: M.A.M.O.T.H. | CC-BY-ND_black.png some rights reserved
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