What should be our ambitions for affordable housing design in Africa? Professor Ola Uduku examines the issues.
Now that we are in the second decade of the 21st century, what ambitions do we have for affordable housing design in Africa? Whilst much of the 20th century’s low-cost housing provision was decided and regulated through international housing programmes and standards, the 21st century presents a different proposition.
We now have a better and wider range of local building materials which both respond to the need to ensure we do not add to the climate crisis and also ensure that we begin to support our local economies.
In the past, house building focused on ensuring one had enough cement and raw materials to create the ubiquitous sandcrete blocks needed for building. The need for steel for reinforced concrete beams also added significantly to the cost of the typical housing project.
The creation of housing estates from the late 1970s did help share and democratise design although the building materials being used have remained traditional. Shared services such as boreholes and estate generators have made life more liveable for those able to afford the lifestyle some estates afford.
The 21st century provides us with more affordable possibilities; mass housing production has meant that the manual sandcrete blocks and mortar concrete frame construction can now be delivered much more sustainably as the use of either clay bricks, or locally sourced material stabilised earth blocks. These are now viable options that can be sustainably produced locally at significantly reduced costs with minimal use of cement.
The production of local wooden framed windows, incorporating wooden louvres also demonstrates that our reliance on imported aluminium frames can be challenged. Most importantly, building finishes, which again have relied on imported materials, can be locally sourced with great success.
New crop of designers
We also have a new crop of indigenous designers and architects who although they have been more focused on big ticket and institutional designs, have in some cases designed their own houses using local materials.
The Ghanaian architects Joe Addo, and multi award-winning Lesley Lokko have both built their own houses in Accra, Ghana which has similar environmental conditions to coastal Nigeria using mainly local materials at a fraction of the cost of typical middle-income housing in Nigeria.
In Nigeria, representing such a huge untapped market, there is need to look back to the housing estates built in the early 1960s for innovative housing designs for different income groups.
In contemporary times, most innovation has focused on the élite, high income housing market, where the cost of materials and affordability is not the issue although good design is becoming appreciated.
To appreciate what is new in affordable housing design and materials use in tropical climates, the lifework of the Australian architect Glen Murcutt gives a good overview of what is possible in the tropical Australian State, Queensland. The same can be said for Sam Mockbee’s rural studio in Alabama, US.
Recent contemporary housing design in Vietnam, India and also tropical Latin American nations such as Costa Rica and Ecuador, demonstrate how materials such as bamboo, clay bricks and tropical woods can be used as housing materials – and also, the promotion of local acquirable basic building skills.
Also, to be incorporated into future affordable housing design is the long overdue use of renewable services which include solar photovoltaic cells for electricity production and solar water heating.
Furthermore, the standard design of rainwater collection systems can be adapted to integrate grey water storage to enable non potable (drinking) water uses, such as for WC flushing, and cleaning. Collected rainwater would be an adequate solution in response to these two activities since more expensive borehole or purchased water systems are not necessary.
Future affordable housing designers would do well to consider these issues and also to design new affordable housing schemes in consultation with local community recipients to be best able to respond to the needs and wants of this emerging economic group.
Ola Uduku is Professor of Architecture at Manchester School of Architecture, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK.
To read more articles from our special report on affordable housing in Africa, coordinated by AFFORD UK, visit the Housing a Continent webpage.