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THE TEAM A group of old and news friends, locals and foreigners, students, craftmen, designers, teachers and dreamers united as a team around one thing, giving their best for a community, this is the Sankofa team.

The Sankofa House makers Š MAMOTH, Matthew Right, Kristel Pelliet

The Sankofa House makers Š MAMOTH, Matthew Right, Kristel Pelliet


La fondation NKA est une organisation à but non lucratif dont l’objectif est d’aider les communautés les plus démunies, en Afrique et ailleurs, à travers les arts et l’enseignement du design. En août 2015, la fondation Nka organise le concours international d’architecture “Mud House Design 2014 : Reinventing the African Mud Hut Together” dédié aux étudiants et jeunes diplômés en architecture du monde entier qui pensent que l’architecture en terre peut être belle. Le défi est de concevoir une unité d’habitation pour une famille.

M.A.M.O.T.H. is an association of architects, artists and craftsmen from all backgrounds who question and wonder about the interactions between matter, material and space. United by a desire to rediscover the gestures and postures that human works the material to create beautiful or useful, Mamoth likes to reinterpret the techniques and old skills, inspired by a vernacular heritage, resourceful and pragmatic, to offer a thoughtful and humane architecture, between “lowtech” and “hightech”. Experimental Creative Workshop, M.A.M.O.T.H. hinges between research and creations, projects and dreams ... Giving meaning to the matter, find the links between man, his hand and object, sensitive and poetic, that is the happy ambition of M.A.M.O.T.H.. This singular approach, which calls for the meeting and exchange, sharing of ideas and knowledge involves the group in many projects and the creation of workshops in France and elsewhere.

« J’essaie toujours de faire ce que je ne sais pas faire, c’est ainsi que j’espère apprendre à le faire. » Pablo PICASSO Handcrafted walls © MAMOTH

Facebook @ M A M O T H

the CONTEMPORARY MUD HUT, mud hut design competition by


In August 2015, NKA Foundation organizes a call for ideas and an international architectural competition to promote its activity on the sites that it occupies in Burkina Faso and Ghana. The “Mud Hut Competition 2014, reinventing the African mud hut together� is a competition open to young architects who think that earthen architecture, with strong traditional and rural connotation, can be beautiful and innovative. The subject, a family-housing unit built for less than $ 8,000, must help the rehabilitation of traditional building techniques and promote local expertise and skilled workers. In this competition, ten projects are selected, the first three are offered the opportunity to come and build in the village of Abetenim, in central Ghana, in the Ashanti kingdom, their prototype. M.A.M.O.T.H. offers then the Sankofa House (competition1st prize), a rewriting of the traditional Ghanaian house. Inspired by the recognizable silhouettes of Ashanti’s buildings (West African population living in Ghana), the association draws a courtyard building with sloping roofs and colorful facades. The project emphasizes the use of available resources and employment to local artisans. Because the topic is about producing an habitat designed for Ghanaian families, the design is simple, practical and economical. The global climatic approach, in addition to a good orientation of the building on site, is simply to rediscover the thermal properties of materials such as earth and natural fibers.

Competition boards from MAMOTH team

the CONTEMPORARY MUD HUT, mud hut design competition by


NKA Foundation is a nonprofit organization particularly active in West Africa. Nka means in Igbo (Nigeria) any activity related to art, his literary translation is “ ... of the art”. It is also a word in Akan (Ghana) which means “old” . Initiated in 2005, the project of the foundation is to support the development of rural communities in West Africa through arts education and openness to culture. By creating several “ Art villages “ in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Tanzania ... NKA hopes to generate several platforms for exchange between artists and artisans throughout the world.


Map of Ghana and localisation of the village ©MAMOTH

the CONTEMPORARY MUD HUT, for who? for what?

In Ghana, as in many countries in West Africa, stereotypes persist on earth construction and its symbol and image of the poor farmer’s house. Yet this ancient architecture was quickly abandoned in favor of more «modern» constructions made of cement blocks and other industrial materials that are not only very expensive because mostly imported from abroad, but also thermally very unsuited to tropical climate so particular this region of the world. Today, in cities until bush villages, cement has become indispensable in spite of its price and poor quality and the increasingly high cost of these materials makes homeownership for low-income families almost impossible. However, in Abetenim and as in many other villages in Ghana, almost all of the houses (98%) are built with local red earth, available in large quantities and free, the laterite. These houses often «cobbled together» years after years or just not maintained are severely damaged each rainy season. The ruined buildings punctuate the everyday landscape of these communities that can no longer imagine this earthen architecture as efficient, safe and sustainable. Craftsmen who have turned to industrial materials used in major projects in the region have gradually forgot skills and know-how. Unfortunately concrete structures, even built sometimes less than ten years, are beginning to deteriorate rapidly too in this extreme climate, or because of inappropriate design, such as the recurrent use of flat roofs «as in Europe «or by negligence on the quality of concrete, the coating of steels, structural design ... A lifetime moment at Abetenim, a girl is making palm oil ©Kristel Pelliet

the CONTEMPORARY MUD HUT, for who? for what?

A heritage that lives through the seasons © MAMOTH

Many houses, still used, are falling apart after each heavy rains. ©MAMOTH

The courtyard, a multipurpose area in the Ghanaian daily life ŠMAMOTH

the CONTEMPORARY MUD HUT, the sankofa house project

Vernacular architecture is in essence contextual. It always responds pragmatically to the needs and desires of a community. It is not conceived, but grows over time, by innovations or by expressions of priorities of the community. Logically, the vernacular developed itself far from the institutions and infrastructures. Communities continue to build like their ancesters, with a minimum of resources and a maximum of effectiveness. The vernacular embraces the idea of minimalist efficiency, of thoughtfulness, of a logical and well-embedded method of construction at scale of humans. Reinventing the mud house is a subject that involves rediscovering and reinterpreting symbols, qualities and techniques of traditional Ashanti architecture. Here, contemporary design is inspired by the architecture of Ashanti palace and by the pragmatism of popular house, simple and practical. This particular architecture is recognizable by its sloping roofs, its plastered walls, its decorative ornaments and its large base which highlights all. Not only cultural, this typology is a response to the various constraints of a tropical climate. The steep roof minimizes surfaces exposed to sunlight and heat. The height under the roof provides good air circulation. The heat is evacuated by a roof rack system. It also ease discharging heavy rainwater with two metallic gutters placed between the roofs to collect rainwater which can be easily stocked in a tank in the courtyard. Ashanti house, like most modern compound houses, are all organized around a courtyard, which offers a private outdoor space and allows natural cross ventilation of the house. The Sankofa House is a new vernacular architecture, shaped by the needs and resources available.


Ejisu traditional house, renovated and maintained by Unesco ©MAMOTH

SANKOFA Symbol meaning ÂŤ reach back and get itÂť (san - to return; ko - to go; fa - to look, to seek and take).

The Sankofa symbol appears frequently in traditional Akan art to represent the need to reflect on the past to build a successful future.

learning by doing workshop prospective mission

The Sankofa House is a new vernacular architecture, shaped by the needs and necessities. To support the project of the Sankofa House NKA foundation offers to the association M.A.M.O.T.H. to hold a three-month intensive workshop on site. The idea is attractive because it is to create links and exchanges between architecture students, professionals of the construction and village craftsmen. The project is then designed as a training site where all stakeholders involved into the design and the realization of the building and receive practical and theoretical training in earth construction. In January 2015, having established a group of 17 international participants and volunteers, the team flew to Ghana. At first, an important work of analysis of local architecture has been made. This analysis, summarized in a document produced by students of ENSAM (National School of Architecture in Montpellier, France) was then handed over to local authorities as work support for future interventions in the community. It identifies the different construction techniques remarkable into the town and provides an inventory of existing structures. This analysis exposes all constructive pathologies on earthen houses and provides a reconciliation of the different techniques used such as Atakpame (cob), wattle and daub, mud brick or cement. With this document the participants are able to identify the most appropriate technical solutions and, by visiting the village, supervised by locals, discovering the technical, aesthetic and climatic potential of these materials.

Patchwork of textures from Abetenim ŠMAMOTH

learning by doing workshop prospective mission

Sketching of ambiance ©Chloé Juglard

An analysis document of the local vernacular architecture has been produced by 3 participants, students at the Montpellier School of Architecture. ©MAMOTH

learning by doing workshop Knowledge exchange by lessons

After having observed and studied the local vernacular architecture, their types and their construction details, participants benefit from a theoretical material on earth as a building material, its weakness and potentiality. Working with natural materials, which are not calibrated and have large differences from one sample to another is to accept to carry out many tests before and during construction. These tests, whether performed in the field or in the laboratory must ensure a constant quality material. The Sankofa House is a project where the soil as a material is implementing in four different ways: cob, rammed earth, wattle and daub and plastering. Each technique needs a material reformulated from a base lateritic earth: a fibrous clayey soil, a gravy-sandy soil... The participants, after completing a theoretical behavior of granular material, the reaction of clays, the function of the fibers in a material ... are able to identify the good compositions for any mixtures to obtain. All these were tested to obtain the best performing materials, economical and easy to work with. This work is a first step physical contact with the material and highlights the idea of a better understanding by manipulating. Each material formulated for the different technique was validated with the construction of a full-scale prototype.

The variety of soils from Abetenim ŠMAMOTH

learning by doing workshop Knowledge exchange by lessons

Theoric lessons on earth construction to get comprehension of the material ©MAMOTH

Field test analysis, the importance of touching ©Chloé Juglard

learning by doing workshop Knowledge exchange by prototyping

How to obtain a sufficiently dense rammed earth wall? How do I increase the resistance of a cob wall? How to stabilize a coating that cracked or floured? To answer this, we must produce real scale elements, prototypes, and observe the behavior of the material during drying and after a selection of tests. For several weeks, with students, prototypes of all the elements used in the construction were produced. This step is crucial because it validates the choices made upstream and confirms whether or not the feasibility of the technique. All the effects observed from the tests on site are neither quantifiable nor calculable but must help selecting the right options. So the earth plasters were stabilized thanks to the juice of a tropical plant, the Banku flower. The plant secretes slimy water if it is hot pressed. Incorporated with the mixing water it avoids the appearance of large cracks upon drying and strengthens the surface of the coating. Rammed earth is not a traditional Ghanaian technique and the local soil available is not particularly suitable for such use. A special clayey soil from a quarry from the outskirts of the village has been used to obtain higher performances. The Atakpame (lair) is traditionally made without fibers for reasons of speed and simplicity. Cracks then appear regularly in the wall and are “blocked” by stones included in the wall. To avoid this detail that weakens punctually the structure, coco fibers were added to the mixture and fences and mesh were positioned regularly in the structure. Testing various receipe of clay plaster ©MAMOTH

learning by doing workshop Knowledge exchange by prototyping

Improving rammed earth composition ©Chloé Juglard

Prototypes are used to validate technical choices ©Chloé Juglard

participative design and build contextual design studio

The design process follows the logic of the learning workshop. After analyzing the local architecture and understanding of the material the participants proposed technical solutions and redesigned the Sankofa House in an ultracontextual approach. This phased teaching allows considerable time saving during the building design sessions since the participants are already able to imagine effective construction details and know the limits and characteristics of the materials used. The building is a single volume, oriented North / South. Large covered outdoor areas are managed around a central courtyard that reminds traditional housing. The light structure of terraces creates ventilated spaces refreshing the inside. With the idea of producing a replicable building and adaptable to the needs of the inhabitants, the bioclimatic solutions are simple, the high inertia of the walls allows to store the coolness and humidity of tropical nights, the large internal volume and ventilated roof keep a low indoor temperature while a rainwater recovery system is set at the junction of two roofs. The shape of the Sankofa House, largely inspired by Ashanti built heritage with its successions of sloping roofs in the landscape that draws a “skyline� so special, generates an appreciable thermal comfort compared to cement brickwork with flat roofs.

Design session with students ŠMAMOTH

participative design and build contextual design studio

TRADITIONAL ASHANTI ARCHITECTURE Une rue de la ville de Kumassi au 19° siècle ©Chloé Juglard


dining room

bedroom mezzanine +1

outside kitchen



n a shape linked to the climatic issues





participative design and build contextual design studio

Section of the Sankofa House ©MAMOTH

Section of the Sankofa House ©MAMOTH

participative design and build contextual design studio

West facade of the Sankofa House ©MAMOTH

South facade of the Sankofa House ©MAMOTH

participative design and build contextual design studio

West facade of the Sankofa House / outside plaster proposal ŠMAMOTH

South facade of the Sankofa House / outside plaster proposal ŠMAMOTH

participative design and build a training and building site

The construction of the structure was done as a field school, training and building site, a space for learning, exchange and production. The site is a real pedagogical support, teachers become learners and learners, teachers depending on the skills of each. This type of work format promotes the collective intelligence and shared reflection. Ghanaian craftmen and international volunteers were able to mutually enrich their knowledge by working together. In parallel to the construction of prototypes, a site runs for three months and the participants, divided into teams, took turns around the different work to do on the site. Building with his hands, touching the material, understand the connections drawn and the energy and time required deployed to accomplish a task is a very formative experience for students in architecture. Under professional advices participants are formed and enjoy emulating a collective project. In ten weeks, the team of 17 participants, 3 craftmens and 6 workers produced a building of 80 m2. The pace of work, intense, actually participated into the team cohesion and commitment of all participants.

Matthew stacks rocks on his line ŠMAMOTH

participative design and build a training and building site

Koffi and Fussaini, two brothers, two incredible workers. ©MAMOTH

Clément and Latif ramming the earthen floor ©Chloé Juglard

participative design and build a training and building site

Koffi and Jeroen finishing the rammed earth wall. ŠMAMOTH

Benjamin and Agyemang, french and ghanaian carpenters work together on the roof design. ŠMAMOTH

participative design and build a training and building site

Sophie and Clément, landscape supervisers. ©MAMOTH

Mathilde checks the alignement of the consoles ©MAMOTH

contextual approach / techniques atakpame “to shape”

At Abetenim, nearly 30% of the buildings are in Atakpame. It seems that this constructive technique is originally from the same named city in Togo. Similar to cob, known and used in Europe, the Atakpamé is a technique that consists in mixing clay and water to obtain a plastic element shaped manually. The thickness of the walls varies from 20 to 30 cm and they are lifted in layers of 50 to 60 cm high. These different layers are clearly visible and illustrate the making process. During the drying, required between each layer, large cracks often appear. To prevent the spread of these cracks, stones are placed carefully between two layers. It is noted that these buildings traditionally constructed without foundations, suffer the ravages of the rain season each year. Time after time, the lower part of the wall is dug and the building sustainability is not ensured anymore.

One of the oldest structure of the town, made of Atakpamé ©MAMOTH

Matthew and Lila prepare the earthen balls for the mason. ©MAMOTH

Koffi starts the third layer of Atakpamé. ©MAMOTH

contextual approach / techniques wattle and daub “to fill�

The wattle and daub is a lightweight construction technique that requires less time than a massive structure. A wooden or bamboo structure is first formed and then a mixture of clay sieved soil and fiber is applied on this support. The first advantage of this technique is to work sheltered from rain and sun when the load bearing structure is built first. At Abetenim, wattle and daub is mostly used for ancillary buildings such as kitchens and storage shelters. Indeed these buildings are inexpensive and are very easily repaired. Here the earth material is not structural, it is used as filling and complements a wood frame. To prevent severe cracking and separation from the structure the material is mixed with plenty of coconut fiber.

A small outside kitchen entirely made of wattle and daub ŠMAMOTH

Matthew and Lila prepare the earthen balls for the mason. ©MAMOTH

Several steps of the wattle and daub construction with Laura, Kristel, Koffi, Léa et Dorian . ©MAMOTH

contextual approach / ressources

The lateritic soil

The clayey soil from the quarry

The laterite or red earth is available everywhere in Ghana and many other African countries. Present on the project site it is directly recovered from the excavations. This clay-sandy earth possesses sufficient cohesion to build walls. For the wattle and coco fibers have been added to this soil. .

Because lateritic earth is not suitable for rammed earth, a second soil has been used. This is a waste product produce by a quarry near the village (15 km). This soil contains enough clay and was completed with gravel and sand to form a very good rammed-earth mixture. Sieved, it is a very good basis for interior coatings.

Coco fibers


Coco fiber is a resource available in large quantities on the territory. Stored in compressed boots she traditionally used as fuel. However, once sorted it is a very good fiber for construction with strands thin and flexible from 3 to 15 cm. Another advantage, it is not appreciated by termites.

AtakpamĂŠ is a pure manual construction technique. The only tools necessary for its implementation are the hands of the craftsman. With his fingers he carves, shapes and molds the walls of the house. This technique is economic, ecological and social and represents a fine example of what skill and intelligence of the hand are able to do.

Rammed earth

The timber

Rammed earth is not a constructive technique from Ghana. However, we wanted to set up a prototype wall, placed in the center of the house, protected from the weather. For its construction, a yellow earth, also used for coatings, was brought on site. Some former project NKA made in the village are made with rammed earth laterite but the material was not good enough and requires stabilization at 5 % cement.

The timber is a renewable but fragile resource. Because of the growing deforestation in the country, there is a real lack of quality wood for construction. The authorities are trying to regulate illegal logging cuts is common. Also the carpenters work with fresh parts and often rarely exceeding four meters long.


Cement “when it is necessary�

To save cement, far too expensive in Ghana, the foundations were stone made. These come from a nearby quarry. The masonry of rocks with a cement mortar protects the building from the rain and the capillarity rising up into the wall. It also avoid too much insects ans animals inside.

With regular violent winds in the area there must be a good anchoring of the timber frame with the walls. A high ring beam made of reinforced concrete helps consolidate the earthwork and simplifies the installation of the frame by leveling the walls.

Daouda enjoys the terrace ŠMAMOTH

View from South-East ©MAMOTH

A steep roof in the sky ©MAMOTH

A group of young local musicians rehearse on the terrace ŠMAMOTH

View in the main room. ŠMAMOTH

The table placed in the center of the main room. ŠMAMOTH

LÊa tells a story to the kids on the mezzanine. ŠMAMOTH

View on the rammed earth wall. ŠMAMOTH

The kitchen’s furniture. ©MAMOTH

The kitchen. ©MAMOTH

South facade, view on the courtyard. ŠMAMOTH

experience feedback matthew right,

architect, uk.

I feel one of the main benefits of a project that is being developed and built at the same time through a participative workshop is that the end result is a building which is far more adapt to the social, environmental and economical context. A project of this kind allows for the design to adapt as challenges arise and knowledge is gained during the building process. Economic, social and environmental constraints become far more real on site and during construction than while sitting in back in an office far from the site. This type of project allows the knowledge and experience of the workshop participants and local workers to contribute sometimes-valid input regarding the design. This ability to adapt a project is itself is an extremely difficult skill but a skill that I feel can only benefit the final outcome and that MAMOTH managed extremely well. Being able to involve local workers and skilled craftsmen in the workshop testing sessions and practical demonstrations allows them to give input and a local perspective on sometimes international ideas. Another benefit is that this type of project opens up the process to all those who participate, and extends the knowledge sharing experience, benefiting the local workers and the workshop participants. It creates a sense of communal ownership for the project, which not only contributes to the project itself, but also to the experience that those involved can take away with them. Hopefully leading to similar projects in the future.

First group picture, March 2015. ŠMAMOTH

experience feedback jeroen beyers,

student in architecture, be.

The experience has taught a lot about the difference in living comfort and the difference in the act of building. Without technology it was quite a challenge to achieve the same quality for the building that we would expect in western society. I’ve learned a lot thru MAMOTH as well according to techniques, the right way of applying these techniques and especially how to interact with the local community. To your eyes, what are the benefits of your work for the local community? They are able to see that their own, local architecture can be modern, can look rich and can be efficient. It’s not the material that matters but the way its users perceive it. Hopefully this building has helped to change their perception.

Second group picture, April 2015. ©MAMOTH

THANK YOU ! participants

Mathilde TERRIER Chloé JUGLARD Thomas FIGUERA Clément OUDART Matthew Wright Jeroen BEYERS Laura Marín Julià Benjamin GONZALVEZ Céline Cuvillier Lila Minchin Sabine Lepère Paola quarta Clarisse Merz Lucie nattes Mathilde guihaumé Sophie boone Léa Delpech


Anne Touanen Olivier Salomé Christophe benichou Irène fedon Françoise Chavanon Marie Gonzalvez Marine Dupont Anne cuvillier Jean-Noël Fessy Fanny thomas Nicole marcadier Eva-Maria Goessling Daniele frelat Katia Imbert Didier LE MAT Guy & Aurélien DELBECQUE Laurence HERBAUT Aimée laurans Thibault TANGUY Agnès VAUZELLE Mariette Moevus Christian Viguerie Lennie Martinez Jérémy Boireau Céline Terrier Damien Hyvernaud Louise baixe Yannick & Catherine pelliet Société ISC

M A M O T H + NKA Foundation Website: M A M O T H NKA Email: M A M O T H NKA For Press Inquiries and HiRes pictures, please contact us.

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