Hellen's House

Since the independence of most African states in the 1960s, development of these low income countries has tended to look to their former colonial rulers as a benchmark. Most noticeably, in construction, this has led to an increasing influx of concrete, metal and glass building, both in rural and urban contexts. Materials, such as earth, which once characterised much of sub-Saharan vernacular architectures, are now symbols of a backward society; of a past best forgotten. Concrete, steel and glass are icons of a forward thinking, modern Africa. Yet in countries where a bag of cement costs roughly the same as it does in the UK, these European imitations give little thought to the contrasting climates in which they are so conspicuously dropped. Even in rural areas, tin roofs are preferred to traditional thatch or clay tiles. A symbol of development, yet a material which typically leads to poor internal space and comfort and which rarely stands the test of time.

In Kenya, we were able to counteract these perceptions by presenting earth as a modern technology, far superior in economic, environmental and aesthetic terms, and with much greater accessibility and ease of use. On the Nakuru Project, we worked with over forty members of the local community, men and women, sharing knowledge and improving skills as a team, many of whom have now gone on to build further with this humble material.For us, earth represents an exciting future for African design, a chance to re-appropriate traditional vernaculars into a modern local style, respondent to climate, economy and resource.

The £1k House project seeks to expand local knowledge in earthbag construction, initially in Kenya, exploring a simple family dwelling within an ambitious budget of £1,000 per unit. The first unit will be built in Murunyu, Nakuru, for Hellen Nyambura Kamau and her family. The house will double as a show-home for Hellen to develop, along with a team from the local community, an earthbag construction business, delivering homes for others across the area and creating a unique opportunity for income generation.

Location: Kenya

Client: Hellen

Year: 2015

Build Cost: £2,300

Land Cost: £1,900

Size: 60m2