Mud Structures/ Cultural Sustainability

Too often when people in the West think of African architecture, they perceive nothing more than a mud hut – a primitive vernacular remembered from an old Tarzan movie.  Why this ignorance to the richness of West African buildings?  Perhaps it is because the great dynastic civilizations of the region were already in decline when the European colonizers first exposed these cultures to the West.  Being built of mud, many older buildings had already been lost.  Perhaps the buildings were too “strange” to be appreciated by outsiders.

In fact these buildings are neither historic monuments in the classic sense nor as culturally remote as they may initially appear.  They share many qualities – such as sustainability, sculptural form, and community participation in their conception.  Though part of long traditions and ancient cultures, they are, at the same time, contemporary structures serving a current purpose.

In the wonderful pictorial “Butabu Adobe Architecture,”  James Morris takes a journey through parts of West Africa to explore the beauty and utility of these structures.

In “Adobe, Building and Living with Earth” by David Larkin and Orlando Romero, we see the African influence in the adobe building in the southwest of the United States transported by the Spaniards who embraced the culture of the Moors.


35 responses to “Mud Structures/ Cultural Sustainability

  1. Those strucuture are absolutely awe-inspiring!!

  2. nice photos

  3. Pingback: June Blogging « Pocketlizard

  4. I love adobe buildings, I really enjoyed this post. Great pictures as well! Thanks

  5. Lovely, thanks for sharing!

  6. These are lovely.
    I love the idea of living inside the earth like that and shaping the land naturally to make homes. Doesn’t sustainable housing make so much more sense? It seems far more convenient (and cheaper!; if not exactly time-efficient, I suppose) than the system we have over here. 🙂 But I guess they both have their good sides.

  7. Designs that are both bestial in their ruggedness and celestial at the same time!

  8. rajeevelkunchwar

    Which is that structure in top two photos? A Palace? Its Awesome in looks. Must be good in functionality too.
    I am admirer of Hassan Fathy of Egypt, master of natural ventilation.

  9. What a coincidence. I just scraped a bunch of mud structures off my porch wall this morning. Who knew wasps and humans had so much in common. 🙂
    Amazing how beautiful some of the human ones can be.

    Congratulations on be “Freshly Pressed” today.
    Good luck with your blog.

  10. Fascinating details! Are those exterior buttresses on the first picture?

  11. I have been consistently impressed with how mud structures minimize the need for modern HVAC systems, particularly in arid climates. Thanks for calling attention to something that might be in danger of being lost.

  12. Much more than mud huts! You should have a look at this blog: Some beautiful buildings in Djenne.

  13. wonderful images! I’d love to transport myself there for a while. And great inspiration for interiors.

  14. I love these structures. I read them few times in a medical office. I can tell you that this is a mosque in Malawai, a country which I like to visit for reasons unknown to me. I think I read Ib-Batuta’s travels, and he went to Malavi and to Desert Gobi, and I want to go in his footsteps.


  15. Re: your description of the book Adobe: Your statement is written to lead one to believe that African culture is responsible for Adobe in the New World.
    The indigenous peoples of the Americas and all over the world have used adobe for thousands of years. It’s obvious in the Southwest since some structures predating the Spanish in the Americas are still in use. Taos Pueblo in New Mexico is the best example.
    I’ve never heard it said that Spain “embraced” what is described by Spanish historians as “the invasion and 600-year occupation” by the Moors.
    It’s obvious you are pushing your personal cultural politics at the expense of historical fact. African history and culture is rich and complex. Your bias diminishes it. How sad.

  16. I really wish we could view these structures on their own merit without comparisons to a European sensibility. Ironically, given the current hipness of green and slacking Western economies these edifices look bloody genius in comparison. They are postmodern and ancient at the same time.

  17. Very interesting and informative. Didn’t know the Spaniards borrowed the adobe building concept from the Moors. Thank you!

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  19. stunning buildings! I have just been writing about termites and their clever earthworks, and linked to this post as an example of what we can do with these ideas.

  20. Yes the history books do not often mention the great Malian and Songhay civilisations of the 12th-16th centuries . Like oral histories, if they are not preserved, many think they did not exist. The study of history should be more about what has not been preserved, but likely existed than just the small percentage that has been catalogued. Thanks for the informative article

  21. I was an African Studies/Global Studies double major in college, and loved learning about the rich history of West Africa. It has been one of my dreams is to visit the ancient city of Timbucktu and perhaps Jenne and see some of the mud mosque architecture. Thanks for the post.

  22. Those buildings are so beautiful and unique!

  23. These structures are amazing! I’m looking forward to reading more, and seeing more of your perspective.

  24. Learn something new every day! Thanks.

  25. Do you think those buildings will stand much longer?

  26. Mahfooz Hasan

    Interesting post. Many African architectures deserve more credit than they get.

  27. Interesting post. I know very little about the culture there–it would certainly be an educational experience for me to visit and listen.

  28. lookingforsomethingtofind

    Those buildings are really impressive.

  29. I was intrigued by your page on “Freshly Pressed”. Have you studied the architecture of the Agan Kahn Awards? Particularly Hassan Fathy? He was an Egyptian architect who focused on developing communities through a vernacularly inspired architecture that would be easily accessible, usable, and build-able by their respective communities.

    I think the curricula of many architecture schools and colleges are continually putting more emphasis on design only. There is not enough emphasis on culture, sociology, literature, or history. I have come across many students of architecture who are entirely consumed by their design studio projects and won’t look beyond the doors f the college of architecture to learn about the relevance of culture in architecture and design. In brief, to understand and appreciate a culture’s architecture, one should also study their culture’s music, literature, ritual, oral traditions, etc.

    Anyway, I believe the problem lies in the mentality engendered in the earliest design education. Thanks for the post!

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  31. great insight! mud hut is definitely an understatement.

  32. Pingback: Mud Structures/ Cultural Sustainability (via ethniciti) | Glaciar Exploradores

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