Design project: School in Ali Adayto/Uwwa

Project coordination: Ao. Univ. Prof. DI Dr. Andrea Rieger-Jandl
Project team: Guest professor Peter Rich, M.arch, Johannesburgh/South-Africa, Dr. Petra Gruber (Transarch), Ass. Prof. Dr. Karin Stieldorf (Architecture and Design), Prof. Dirk Donath and Asgedom Haile (Addis Ababa University)
Project partners: APDA Afar Pastoral Development Association, EiABC Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development/AAU Addis Ababa University, SONNE Austria
Type of project: Student Design Project
Duration: Summer term 2011

The project is the results of a studio design class held at the Faculty of Architecture at the Vi­enna University of Technology in the summer term 2011. Theme of the class was “Ethiopia – innovative mud building technologies in the Afar-region” with special attention to the design of a school building for the semi-nomadic village of Ali Adayto/Uwwa in the Afar-region. Prior to design studio a student excursion to the Afar region in Ethiopia was held in February 2011. Together with the local NGO APDA (Afar Pastoral Development Agency) information on the built environment and the local situation has been put together on the spot: interviews with community- and NGO-members, collection of mud samples, checklist of resources, cost of building material etc.

The Afar are a nomadic people living in the north‐eastern part of Ethiopia. According to their pastoralist life­style they have developed simple forms of flexible shelters, made out of twigs and woven mats, which can eas­ily be transported on camels. Due to changing political, economic and environmental circumstances more and more Afar are getting settled, especially along the main trading routes. The new settlements consist of perma­nent houses built out of wooden frames plastered with clay (chikka technique) – which is a highly unsustainable building technology in an arid region with scarce vegetation where every tree is extremely valuable. Thus al­ternatives to the Afar´s way of building with wood are urgently needed. The only building material sufficiently available in the region is earth in the form of mud and clay. However, since building with earth has not been suitable for the nomadic lifestyle there is little indigenous knowledge about the possibilities and the many ad­vantages of this material for building high quality structures. As the way of life is on the verge of changing, the transition to a more sustainable building technology for permanent dwellings seems appropriate.

Task of the studio class was the design of a model school building in Uwwa, Afar‐region, using innovative earth‐building technologies. Schools, community buildings or administrative buildings are new typologies of archi­tecture which have no building tradition in the Afar‐region. Conventional building techniques used for nomadic structures are not applicable to such buildings because of their much larger size. The model school should dem­onstrate, that earth‐building‐technologies offer sustainable solutions for all kinds of building types. A school building is urgently needed in the region, it has a high status and thus the implemented technology has signifi­cant potential for further replication in various buildings of the new settlements.

The focus was placed on the following design criteria:

– Selection/development of mud building techniques with regard to existing resources and to the technical ex­periences and know-how of the local population-Innovative design concepts with special focus on the accept­ance among the local community, status, prestige etc.

– Adaptability of building processes regarding local circumstances (hierarchies and decision making processes, inclusion of local professionals/construction workers, income generation, process oriented building) under spe­cial regard of ownership (land/tenure) and possibilities of long-term maintenance.

Rieger-Jandl, Andrea (ed.), 2016: Tradition in Transition. Reflections on the Architecture of Ethiopia, IVA publishers, Vienna

Film links:
Äthiopien. Lebensqualität aus Lehm: www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRfo8o6HM7Q

Web link: http://www.tuwien.ac.at/aktuelles/news_detail/article/7918/