This week, the 6th International LafargeHolcim Forum for Sustainable Construction will take place in Egypt. The symposium will focus on strategies to “re-materialize” construction by reducing consumption throughout the material cycle from extraction to processing, transport, installation, maintenance, and removal.In the context of the lecture series “Affinity Architecture” at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) a full auditorium of students was inspired by some of the key contributors to the upcoming Forum on “Re-materializing Construction” and their approaches to sustainable design in sub-Saharan Africa.
Combining the contemporary with the traditional
Francis Kéré will be a keynote speaker at the LafargeHolcim Forum. The principal of Kéré Architecture will present his unique blend of architecture that is deeply rooted in his native Burkina Faso, and blends innovation and sustainable techniques with limited resources. “I learnt how to build with steel and glass in Germany – but in my homeland of Burkina Faso, I learnt how to build with cement-stabilized clay”, Francis Kéré explained.
At the ETH Zurich, he presented his Global LafargeHolcim Awards-winning project of 2012, a secondary school in his home town Gando, and illustrated how inexperienced architects are tempted to use contemporary building techniques and materials in developing countries, resulting in unsustainable projects. Despite the oppressive heat, the temperature inside his school classrooms cannot be controlled by closing spaces and cooling with modern air-conditioners: electricity is expensive and long-term maintenance unavailable. His solution used locally-sourced clay as the principal building material, combined with a design that incorporates passive ventilation, underground cooling, double-skin roofs, and planting vegetation. “Combining traditional and contemporary materials and techniques led to affordable and sustainable solutions that are now proven to be successful”, he said.
About the power of an example
Another Forum keynote speech will be delivered by Anne Lacaton (left), from the award-winning practice Lacaton & Vassal, whose work showcases the importance of building upon existing conditions to create new architecture. At the ETH Zurich, she called for “creative economy and poetic pragmatism” when building infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa.
Instead of protecting and fighting against the climate, architects must understand to live with the given. She encouraged the students to carefully observe, and to consider “temporary being a strategy”.
When sharing knowledge becomes reciprocal
Global LafargeHolcim Awards winner from 2018, Mariam Kamara (below, left), presented her work as part of the “Affinity Architecture” lecture series. She co-led a reinterpretation project where traditional local construction techniques were used for a new mosque and community center in Dandaji, Niger – where involving the local artisans, masons, and the community led to a knowledge transfer beneficial to all. In addition, the involvement guaranteed pride and acceptance of modern architecture and new materials. Her project, winning a Global LafargeHolcim Award, is an example of this reciprocal learning.
“By understanding the needs of the community, in this case for public space, we created not only a place to meet, but also a local economy”, said Mariam Kamara, pointing at a farmer’s day market that now uses the public space. “Involve the community, and let them work together. By helping build new infrastructure, they earn a living. And this creates a sense of pride and ownership, enabling long-term and sustainable development of regions affected by migration into cities”, she noted.
Vast potential of sustainable construction
Professor of Architecture & Design, Marc Angélil, moderated the ETH Zurich event and will also moderate the LafargeHolcim Forum in Cairo. He took up the lessons by Francis Kéré, Mariam Kamara, and Anne Lacaton and pointed at the vast potential of sustainable construction in Africa: The creation of rural urban cities to prevent people moving into megacities, the economic potential when local communities and craftsmen are involvement in building, and the environmental benefits of combining traditional and contemporary knowledge with materials new and old.