Used properly, mud can be a free and durable building material that will stand for generations, while offering a sort of natural air conditioning. And when reinforced with sand, clay, or cement, mud can rival the hardness of concrete. Even still, rural Africa’s mud huts are seen as a social stigma among Africa’s rapidly rising middle class.
“Mud architecture is viewed as for the very poor primarily due to poor roof design and poor wall construction, resulting to wall cracks and water damage,” explains Dr. Barthosa Nkurumeh, Nka Project Director. In response, the Africa-focused nonprofit NKA Foundation recently ran a competition to rethink the mud hut, and create an open source design for anyone to use. The stipulations were that local, natural materials should be used wherever possible. Buildings needed to fit on a 60-foot-by-60-foot plot. And construction budgets would be capped at $6,000.
The top 20 entries that followe include suburban homes, sleek modernist ranches, an elongated tepee, and curvaceous structures that look straight out of Tatooine. The winner is a tall, barn-like structure that features a steep roof meant to combat heavy rains while minimizing direct sun exposure.
“The common saying is that ‘a mud house needs a good boot and a tall hat,'” explains Nkurumeh. “With a good foundation, and an overhanging the roof that reaches 3 to 4 feet beyond the outer wall, the mud house might last a thousand years.”
Our personal favorite received third place. It’s an angular, four-building compound that gives off the vibe of a very hip garage, with a striated skin built from rammed earth and a bit of white paint. The sharp geometry seems to be made of anything but sloppy organic mud, and so it completely defies our expectations of what an earthen home can be.
The top three designs will now be prototyped, using a “poured earth” construction method (churning mud, clay, and a touch of cement in a concrete mixer, then pouring it into preconstructed molds). This method, the competition organizers believe, will help avoid the biggest cost in mud hut construction–manpower–and decrease build times to a day and a half for a two-bedroom unit. If you find yourself interested in the work, the NKA Foundation is accepting applications from volunteers now.