Dezeen Magazine

La Voûte Nubienne revives ancient building technique to "transform housing" in Africa

Future Makers: in this movie, Thomas Granier explains why his organisation La Voûte Nubienne believes the future of housing in sub-Saharan Africa can be transformed by reviving a 3,500-year-old building technique.

The bricks used to build a Nubian Vault

Called Nubian vault, the technique originates from the ancient civilisation of Nubia located in what is today northern Sudan and southern Egypt. It enables the creation of vaulted roofs from mud bricks without the need for any other supporting structures.

Construction of a Nubian Vault

Granier came across the technique in a textbook and believed it could be a viable contemporary solution for housebuilding in sub-Saharan Africa, where a lack of resources has made the vernacular timber-based architecture unsustainable.

"The traditional architecture [in sub-Saharan Africa] uses wood and straw for the roof," he explains in the movie. "But this is not possible today anymore because of deforestation."

Construction of a Nubian Vault

Using locally produced mud bricks is much more environmentally friendly than importing modern materials such as concrete or corrugated metal.

It also creates a much more durable and comfortable home, Granier claims.

Interior of a Nubian Vault

"What is very important is you don't use any concrete or iron," he says. "The earth material is very durable and in terms of comfort, it regulates the temperature inside naturally. People are proud to live in Nubian vaults."

Diagram showing a cross-section of Nubian Vault

La Voûte Nubienne standardised the technique and is teaching it to communities in Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal and Ghana.

"It was clear for us the technique we proposed must be simple and standard," he says. "We needed to find an easy solution for the maximum number of people."

A literacy centre built using the Nubian Vault technique

By training local people to use the technique, La Voûte Nubienne provides them with a new source of income. Granier says the plan is for the project to kick-start independent markets for house-building, which will then spread naturally to other areas and communities.

"Our organisation gives an architectural solution to transform housing in Africa in future," he says."The goal at the end is to give people the tools and the capacity to build by themselves."

Thomas Granier, director of La Voûte Nubienne
Thomas Granier, director of La Voûte Nubienne. Copyright: Dezeen

This movie was filmed by Dezeen in Ganges, France. Additional footage and photography is courtesy of La Voûte Nubienne. All images used in this story are courtesy of La Voûte Nubienne, unless specified.

Future Makers is a collaboration between Dezeen and Autodesk exploring how designers are pioneering the future of making things. In this and the next two movies in the series, Future Makers is focusing on designers who are solving pressing global challenges, from climate change to energy access.

You can watch all the movies in the Future Makers series on our YouTube playlist: