The Association la Voûte Nubienne (“AVN”) works to promote sustainable building techniques throughout west Africa. They simultaneously endeavor to empower communities and encourage environmental stewardship through the revival of traditional masonry building techniques.
The “Nubian Vault” technique can be traced to antiquity, and consists of building vaulted roof homes without the use of timber. Instead, it typically uses compressed earth block masonry to form vaults. The technique is notable in several respects:
It relies on compressed earth block and other materials that can be sourced locally, reducing a community’s dependence on importing expensive prefabricated materials.
It avoids the use of timber – especially important in subsaharan Africa, where timber resources are scarce and stocks are being continually depleted for cooking and building.
The technique is simple enough to be taught to laypeople. With proper training, one can move from novice to master builder in only a couple of months. This allows for the creation of livelihoods while in the process of building, and reduces dependency on professionals who might not be available in remote communities.
The work of AVN is in many respects about mining history to create a sustainable future. In areas of scarce resources, it often pays to look backwards, to a time before industrialization and modernization promised us cheap, easy fixes to every building problem. In this case, the revival of an ancient Egyptian building techniques can conserve environmental resources, promote livelihoods and provide housing. Their work, therefore, also includes a focus on education and promotion – making people aware of the resources that latently exist in their own communities.