Transfer Global Architecture Platform, is a new digital editorial project based on the production and transmission of architectural knowledge with the aim of connecting contemporary ideas and practices to build a global architectural culture.

Learn more

Transfer is a nonprofit organization which welcomes private or institutional donations to support the production and distribution of original, independent and high-quality architectural knowledge, addressed to a creative global audience.

Learn more

Global Architecture Platform

Albert Faus:
Architectures and building processes
in Burkina Faso

Part 1

Background

You have a binary background, both as an architect and as a construction engineer. Where is the dividing line between your role as an engineer and your practice as an architect?

I initially studied construction engineering, an education particularly focused on the management of the construction process. Later on, the architectural studies provided me with a more humanistic background, which helped me to investigate a priori forms and concepts, such as aesthetics, proportion and the perception of space. This dual education (one more technical and the other more intellectual), is consciously present in my work. One does not exclude the other; rather they complement each other. But it is true that my engineer’s construction skills are predominant in the design phase, and that is certainly an advantage in my practice in Burkina Faso.

 

Which personal or professional experiences have influenced your architectural practice the most?

Why did you choose to live and build in Burkina Faso? What was the most important thing you learned from Burkina?

I visited the country for the first time in 2005  to support the production of an artistic festival organised by a small Franco-Burkinabe association, called LAAFI. In 2007 we repeated that experience, and at the end of 2008, the association assigned me the construction of a cultural centre in Koudougou. At that time, a professional circle in Barcelona came to an end, so in 2010 I moved to Burkina to supervise the construction of the project’s first phase, while I was working on the design process for the following phases. Once here, new commissions appeared allowing me to stay a while longer.

I don’t feel I have a deep knowledge of Burkina Faso, where 25 different peoples live alongside each other, in addition to a further 35 ethno-linguistic groups.  During the last five years, I’ve mainly lived and worked in the central area of the country, in two of the Mossi nation’s principal cities: Koudougou and Ouagadougou. I would say that instead of learning “from” Burkina, it would be more appropriate to talk about what I’ve taken “out of” Burkina , in the sense that, probably owing to my personal background, here I have found the right moment to exploit a certain life journey, and to extract conclusions from it all.

This personal purification process has been fostered by the specific conditions of each project, as well as by the generic conditions in Burkina Faso, and by the meagre budgets and the technical shortcomings we have come up against.     

Part 2

Conditions

What is your approach towards traditional African architectural practices?

For me, one of the most important experiences in that sense has been KAMBA ZAKA (Children’s House), a summer workshop for kids between six and twelve years old, organised by the LAAFI association in Koudougou in 2011. The proposal originated from the local tradition of building crèches, in the form of small buildings adjoined to the closing wall of the houses’ plots. The idea was to design a Mossi Concession, the vernacular house of the ethnic majority in the Koudougou region. The task aimed to combine children’s enormous creativity and formal spontaneity with the characteristic foresight of architecture, as well as to restore faith in traditional construction and local materials, greatly devalued by imported solutions that are less coherent with the immediate setting.

We attempted to provide the children with new knowledge, through drawing, going out into the playground to form human circles, getting their hands dirty building adobe bricks and, finally, building houses like those in which many of them still live. Despite earth construction being their traditional technique, it is often poorly executed. Through the activity, the kids learned to consider building in a simple, adequate way, laying stone foundations exceeding the level of the land, thus protecting the vulnerable adobe walls from the effect of rainwater run-off. Such simple foresight is anything but trivial: in August 2009, Burkina Faso suffered the worst flooding of recent decades and  more than 150,000 people in Ouagadougou lost their homes, with the immense majority of houses collapsing because they had no solid foundations. Other kids from the district soon showed up when they learned that there was a “white man” playing at building earth houses. They observed closely what we were doing. Soon they started to build around applying our building improvements and new “suburbs” sprang up spontaneously.

How the natural and climatic conditions influence architecture and construction in Burkina Faso?

Most of the territory of Burkina Faso belongs to a western Sudanese savannah climate zone, a region that is generally very flat. To the south the land is green, with forests and fruit trees, and to the north, especially the northeast, it becomes a desert. If there’s anything that easy to find in Burkina Faso, it is earth in optimal conditions for making adobe bricks, as well as stabilised compressed earth blocks, BTC. It is also really easy to find very strong natural rock – cailloux sauvage – , even on the surface, and, depending on the location, laterite mined from open cast quarries. Aggregates, such as different quality sands, laterite gravels, crushed white quartz or different gradings of granite, are commonly used in making different types of mortar and concrete, while agricultural material, such as millet cane or common straw, have traditionally been used to cover and provide shade for buildings.Traditionally, with the arrival of the first rains in June, the construction process would halt, since adobe cannot be produced properly, and the open cast mining of laterite is impossible. Unlike before, now works spring up everywhere to take advantage of the significant quantity of rain, in particular to ensure the proper curing of concrete and cement block walls. Equally interesting is the relationship with trees, since many native species are used in the construction sector. For example, pods from the Néré fruit (Parkia biglobosa) are used to produce a marvellous natural resin used in traditional construction, particularly for clay plasters, and vegetable fat from the Karité (Vitellaria Paradoxa) is used as a natural varnish on floors and earth rendering, and also occasionally as a stabiliser in the manufacture of adobe bricks.

Part 3

Processes

Is the relationship between scarcity (in terms of available materials) and invention relevant in your work in this context?

I try to optimise construction with local materials, interpreting traditional techniques with a contemporary language, and to incorporate improvements with the use of modern materials and methodologies. With this in mind, I have relied as far as possible on the savoir faire of local craftspeople and manufactures, such as the youngsters who make the adobe bricks, the women who work with earth plaster, or the company in Ouagadougou which has been producing BTCs for over 20 years and understands better than anyone else how to build with this material.

In order to ensure the economic feasibility in works with very low budgets, between € 125 and € 200 per square meter, it is really important to adjust the structural calculations as far as possible. It is true that in Burkina Faso the workforce is cheaper than for example in Spain, but it is also true that cement is around 3.5 times more expensive than in Barcelona. That is why we need to rationalise the use of mortar and concrete components as far as we can.  Also, in addition to the high price of binders, there are the technical difficulties in making and delivering the cement. In Burkina Faso, the vast majority of concrete is produced on site; in perhaps 99% of cases, young workers are responsible for measuring the mixture in a proportion of barrow-loads of aggregates and sacks of cement on site. In Burkina very rarely does the temperature fall below 30 degrees –it getting as high as 45 degrees in April-, the relative humidity is extremely low for prolonged periods, and the entire concrete pouring process has be done by hand. For the equivalent of €7 a day, the lads doing this work break their backs mixing aggregates and cement, then push barrows loaded with 125kg of mixture to the pouring site, and at times heave the 15kg buckets to the upper level of the construction.

In the case of the metallic structures to form ventilated double roofs, the approach is to adjust each section to its specific use in order to reduce costs. When I started the construction of the Cultural Centre in Koudougou in 2009, I was still living in Barcelona and, to simplify the process, I unified metal tube sections to one single diameter. When I was already living in Burkina, I got to know the exact availability of the material and the most common sections and the prices, and thus I decided to increase the number of tubes, adjusting the section to each specific use. Despite purchasing 60% more units, the final cost was reduced by about 30%, owing to the significant decrease in costs of the smaller sections.

How do you translate traditional techniques and knowledge into contemporary architectural practice?

I work from a reinterpretation of the local construction models, both of the mansonry and of the metal double roofs, attempting to improve on it through the use of higher performance materials. The predominant building system in Burkina is the use of cement mortar block walls with embedded concrete columns, covered both inside and outside with cement mortar plaste. In one of my first projects, the LAAFI Cultural Centre in Koudougou, I proposed to build load-bearing walls with laterite stone from a local quarry. Later on, these single leaf walls became heavy ventilated façades with a stone outer sheet and adobe inner sheet. For the price of a simple cement mortar plaster 1.5 cm thick, we managed to build the adobe inner wall with traditional earth plaster finishings, executed precisely and beautifully by the Gurunsí women from a neighbouring village, allowing to reduce costs while relying on the restricted local economy.

The process of experimenting and learning in this context has enabled me to evolve from my first building in Burkina in 2009 built with a reinforced concrete-framed structure with laterite stone façades, to the soon-to-be-completed construction of a training workshop for women in Boassa with load-bearing walls and a seven meters span vaulted ceiling made out of earth.

Part 4

Works

Works

Home Kisito
Orphanage for children with special needs

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso 2015

HOME KISITO is a reception centre for infants aged between 0 and 24 months awaiting adoption. The pre-existing building comprises one central volume and two lateral ones located in the eastern third of the plot. The new construction occupies a notably central position in relation to the remaining empty space, parallel to the main body of the orphanage, and along an axis defined by the powerful visual reference of the raised water tank. The resulting area between the two constructions is transformed into the centre’s entrance plaza.

The design and construction of the building attempt to alleviate the constraints of the local climate, such the long periods of high average temperatures with low relative humidity and the rain accompanied by strong easterly winds in summer. To the east of the main façade is a thick stone wall, which acts as a protective screen for the storms and the uppermost of the twin roofs exceeds the height of the building by some 2.5m, creating at the same time a shady perimeter and lowering the nearby outside temperature. Different lines of evergreen trees are planted perpendicular to the direction of the prevailing breezes (east to west), which, in addition to humidifying the air, provide protection from the afternoon sun (flamboyant), reduce the height to a scale more in line with the kiddies (cashew) and provide an abundance of fruit (mango).

The interior of the building is kept cool thanks to the compressed earth walls, vaulted ceilings and flooring. The coloured “insect screens” on the façades allow the vestibule to be configured as a protected, permanently ventilated internal passageway, permitting cross ventilation and emitting warm rising air. This effect is accentuated with the openings at the opposing ends of this corridor (north-south) and at the level of the terraces (east-west), as well as in the vertical plane, with the interruption of the CEBs in the central vaulted ceiling, being replaced by an insect mesh over a metal frame.   

The work has been carried out in a “choral” process, seeking the optimal actor at the lowest possible cost in each phase. The excavation and concrete elements were awarded to a company which agreed to reduce profit margins, taking the social nature of the project into account. The walls were built by young trainees and the ceilings by a highly experienced crew. The stonework and metallic structure was entrusted to teams who had already worked on previous projects, such as the group of women who rendered the interior stone facing by hand with clay plastering. And finally, the technique of weaving coloured plastic used for seats was adapted to make the insect netting for the façades and the corridor, and carried out an association for the blind and partially blind.

(1)

Surface: 250 sqm
Budget: 50 000 €

Works

Katiou Library

Komsilga, Burkina Faso 2014

After carefully studying the conditions of the plot, I proposed locating the library among the Karité trees, where the women sit and sell food and the children lie down in the coolness of the shade. The alignment of the three Karité trees (Vitellaria Paradoxa) on one side, and a fourth one alongside two Neems (Azadirachta Indica) on the other, created a highly suggestive setting. The programme was developed in one single volume. The wall is made even thicker by constructing shelving on both sides of the room, to thus free up interior space, and placing the reading and consultation tables in the centre. The administration and storage spaces are separated by a wall that does not reach the ceiling.

The support frame is a mixed system combining load-bearing walls and pillars made of BTC (compressed earth brick), manufactured close to the site. These bricks are also used in the room’s ceiling, which is supported by stressed ø10mm rebars embedded in the reinforced concrete beams.  The pitched upper roof keeps direct sunlight off the walls and swiftly evacuates rain water. The covering is with galvanised corrugated plates along the straight section, and translucent plastic corrugated plates in the central curved section.

The foundation promoting the project had a few dozen translucent polycarbonate windows stored in the village, from the dismantling of a veranda in Madrid. To make use of all the material, I sized the window modules on the façades and internal ceiling in-line with the measurements of the panels and with the manufacture the BTC bricks. In buildings with budgets as tight as in this one, the frames are usually metallic and simple, without any kind of glass, regulating interior lighting and ventilation with adjustable slats. Having many windows along the façade doesn’t automatically guarantee a good level of light inside. Indeed, the site’s demanding and changing climatic conditions, the amount of dust in the air, its warmth, storms with 45° rain, or the dropping temperatures in December (here, 25°C already gives you a sensation of coolness), show that the slats protecting the windows are partially or totally shut during great part of the year, implying the use of artificial lighting in the reading rooms even during the day.

Thus, the natural lighting —and the ventilation— is enhanced through openings which reuse the translucent, insulating polycarbonate sheets. The windows are set along the north and south façades, as well as in the ceiling, in the form of large practicable skylights, all of the same width. The natural light, passing first through the translucent plastic plates in the upper roof and then filtered through the polycarbonate sheets, makes the skylights look like large diffuse light fittings, ideal for reading.  At sunset, when the artificial lighting is turned on, young students sit outside the library below the windows, taking advantage of the building’s lighting to do their homework.

(1)

Surface: 122 sqm + terrace 25 sqm
Budget: 19 300 €

Posted
24.Feb.2016 1661 views 170 shares
Author
Albert Faus

Albert Faus Madrid (Barcelona, 1972) received a diploma in building engineering and a master’s degree in architecture at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona. Since the mid-1990s he has realized numerous projects, ranging from private housing to public developments. In 2010 he moved to Burkina Faso, where his work is focussed on the design and the construction of projects for small international cooperation’s organizations in this West African country. Always working on low-budget projects, he has proved a clear commitment to the use of local materials in a constant dialog with contemporary constructive systems.

Edited by Transfer