Remember those videos on the internet where men used mud completely to make luxurious houses with swimming pools in remote locations? These videos are a mere source of entertainment yet it fascinates the construction typology. American biologist Dr. Edward O Wilson has rightly said, “Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual satisfaction.” Africa is the promising future of responsive vogue and is demonstrating to the world its sustainable design regime. Africa is known for its extreme climatic and social conditions. Battling these they have set their foot forward to progress keeping the people, local culture, and tradition intact. Local practices are much more reliable and economical for the citizens. 

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Artisans in Africa_© Polina Koroleva, Unsplash
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Colorful Nubian Huts with Vaulted Roof_© Axp Photography, Unsplash

Artisanal refers to anything related to artisans. Since Africa is rich in local materials and art, traditional artisanal materials with innovations are considered for recent world transformations. As major raw materials come from mining, major artisans involve in artisanal small-scale mining as it proves to help maintain the ecosystem. In earlier times, history witnessed design practices that were conventional yet ahead of their time. As the times progressed, functionality and time-driven materials came to light that became the pioneers of urbanization. Africa is probably the only continent where tradition is embraced as technology is unaffordable due to economic barriers. 

The African communities have been in a long run for making a difference in society and the world. Based on their compassionate culture, the designers have been stressing the fact of self-dependent artistic expertise. Designers have put out initiatives, schools of thought, and infrastructure assisting ‘make-do and mend’. Be it Tsai Design Studio with Container classroom or designer Heath Nash promoting recycled plastic lightings or designer Peta Lee Woolf empowering locals to create fashion and fashionable accessories keeping the culture alive has impacted the African Artisanal communities to venture into the world combatting issues and representing Vocal for Local. The bigger impact on the architectural world was put by the Pritzker winner 2022 Ar. Francis Kere of Kere Architecture. Kere Architecture helped innovate local materials empowering local practices yet aesthetically appealed the masses with an Afro-Futurist vision. Going old-school with progressive remixes is the need of the hour.

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Methods of the past with remix of Future_© Pexels Kureng Workx, Unsplash

Sustainable Design Practices:

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Tobogo Home low-cost house with locally sourced materials concrete blocks, earth, clay, straw, timber, grass mats_© Sabine Gretner for BaseHabitat

Being Local

Architect Francis Kere correctly states to use local materials to have a prospective future without being mediocre. Rammed earth brick for the construction of walls with low-grade sheep wool as insulation in ceilings serves as an excellent solution to reduce the heat effect of the sun. An ingenious solution for having cavity walls with loaded with charcoal with water flowing throughout the cavity helps the passing air to cool down. The local thatch for roofs even straw-infused bricks helps to cool down by being carbon neutral. The outer and inner layers of the walls have mud infused with grass mats and straw to keep the internal temperatures cool. Locally available timber sheets, metal sheets, and bamboo for roofing ensure air flow for a better indoors. 

Saving the trash – Recycled materials 

Apart from locally available materials, locally discarded materials are re-used and recycled directly or indirectly aiding the construction process. Glass, plastic, wood, and metal are recycled for door windows and reinforced bricks but waste like rice husks, cotton & coffee waste is used for the mud-brick firing process to produce durable brick. Shipping containers have been resourcefully recycled to produce a primary school – Vissershok School in Durbanville. The Refisque Women’s Centre uses out-and-out recycled materials like glass bottles, car wheel rims, and recycled metal to have a negative carbon footprint also empowering women. Even car tyres are recycled giving rise to reinforced retaining curved walls, aesthetics meets efficiency-Sustainability strikes a point!

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Vissershok Container Classroom_© Tsui Design Studio

Playing it Cool – Passive Cooling Design

With materials aiding to cool the temperature, design strategies to consciously minimize heat gain are taken into consideration. The structures are designed with longer facades on the east-west axis and shorter at the north-south axis. Overhangs in roofs are judiciously used to minimize summer sun yet angled for winter heat. Butterfly roofs could also be seen in certain areas to allow wind flow through the space. With this, the roof areas serve as catchments for rainwater harvesting. Flowing water is used to minimize hot air and cooler interiors. Courtyard spaces for maximum ventilation and gathering individuals are also considered in social projects – schools, etc. Kere Architecture showcases a secondary envelope of Eucalyptus timber that allows sunlight keeping the internal spaces safe during extreme rains, and hot and cold temperatures. High thermal mass in Tlholego Ecovillage using dome roofs helps to combat extreme temperatures. 

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Courtyards in Action- Low Cost School & Home for HIV Orphans_© Holcim Foundation Sustainable Construction

Going the Greenway

The forests are always a treasure for any ecosystem. With deforestation increasing at an alarming rate, it is important to replenish the natural reserves in any way possible.  Many projects have displayed an integration of flora and fauna in the designs. As seen in the Habitat Research and Development Center in Namibia, retaining walls of sands have helped in the growth of native grass species, along with that lavender plants ensure insect prevention in the space. Heavy usage of court space and skylights have allowed natural light to lighten up the vibe of the space. Green roofs and rooftop grazing around the Forum Homini Hotels helped the preservation of wildlife and green spaces in and around. Devices like solar panels, and solar water heaters in low-rise urban housing projects have helped provide green energy in houses. Ecovillage combined waste treatment onsite providing recycling of water and use of grey water. Tourists and holiday spaces even use waste management to the extent of producing in-house energy sources (methane gas)

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Lycee Schorge School with external façade of Eucalyptus  © Iwan Baan for Kere Architecture

Going High on Savings

Locally sourced materials help to save big on transportation costs. This plays down the cost of the overall construction. Keeping that along with energy, the energy invested as well the days invested for transportation also goes down. The cost-effectiveness is observed post the completion of the projects as well where the energy generation is in-house through various means and methods, passive design helps cut down extra electricity usage for the internal temperature. Also, the materials are heavily on the ecological side hence it saves on carbon emissions

Community Library Ghana with 45000 recycled plastic bottles ©

Balance is the key to nature. Sustainability is the need of the hour due to the catastrophe of the climate. Thanks to the atrocities of the luxurious life, the balance of nature is endangered. Even the balance in the social sphere is such that the richer become richer and the poor become poorer. Sustainability becomes a necessity at this stage of environmental crisis but some regions cannot help but oblige using local materials as they are not able to afford anything else. These design initiatives are a plausible reflection of how beautiful the environment can be irrespective of the constraints. the developed nations should rather take more lessons from this striving nation to help the planet to become a better place.

  1. Allplan (2017). Sustainable architecture in developing countries – Challenges and solutions. [online] Available at:
  2. Ejiga, O., Paul, O. and Cordelia, O. (2012). Sustainability in traditional African architecture: a springboard for sustainable urban cities. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Aug. 2023].
  3. Finney, S. (2013). Social Sustainability South Africas Top Ten… [online] Culture Trip. Available at: [Accessed 9 Aug. 2023].
  4. Nina Maritz Architects (n.d.). HABITAT RESOURCE AND DEVELOPMENT CENTRE extended | Nina Maritz Architects. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Aug. 2023].
  5. Philadelphia Museum of Art (2016). Creative Africa: The Architecture of Francis Kéré: Building for Community. [online] Creative Africa: The Architecture of Francis Kéré: Building for Community. Available at: [Accessed 11 Aug. 2023].
  6. Rosenfield, K. (2012). Vissershok Container Classroom / Tsai Design Studio. [online] ArchDaily. Available at:
  7. Taipale, Dr.K., Tessema, F. and Bethege, J. (n.d.). Sustainable Buildings & Construction in Africa. [online] Available at:
  8. UNEP. (2022). Traditional building practices offer sustainable solutions as African cities grow. [online] Available at:

Zoya is an Architect trying to break stereotypes. She is an avid reader with progressive perspectives on every aspect with her own quirk. She believes that architecture needs simplistic approach to innovate complexities. She loves Bollywood and wants her words to reach far & wide!