Round huts are a vital architectural staple in East Africa not just in the region but for many indigenous societies around the world. Villages rarely had perimeter walls because the shape of the huts dissipated strong winds and extreme weather. The circular shape of huts so common in Kenya and throughout East Africa meant that the interior was kept cool and smoke would filter out of the ventilation at the top. In addition to the ingenious construction of mud huts; circular huts, circular fires and circular seating arrangements reflect an understanding of a cohesive community with gathering spaces built around this concept. While in Europe they were still using arsenic as foundation, we already had air conditioning, sanitation, and weather-proof housing.
Though huts have been looked down on as we move further and further into industrialization, they are actually incredibly sustainable, durable, and cheap. The materials used vary as people use materials from the surrounding environment to build their homes. The cost and carbon emissions involved with importing is non-existent, and you won’t have to sell your kidney, your mum and your dog to pay for housing.
High rates of rural to urban migration in Africa is creating a rising housing crisis as more people make the move in search of jobs. With this comes the ditching of traditional and sustainable housing methods in favour of more ‘city friendly’ housing like apartment complexes. John Oprong, the chair of the Ugandan National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU), argued that huts are made of locally sourced materials are not only sustainable but also economical “A grass-thatched house is cool and when you drink water kept in a pot, it is as cold as water from the fridge,”1
One of the materials used is adobe, a type of dried mud brick that combines the components of soil, water, and sunlight. It’s an ancient building material manufactured from tightly condensed sand, clay, and straw or grass mixed with water, then moulded into bricks and dried naturally using the sun.2 Adobe is a very sustainable material to use when building homes because it has natural air ventilation and heating, regulating temperature by keeping the inside cool during the day and warm at night. This happens because clay and grass are both strong insulators, and they are also porous, allowing air to circulate freely.3
Karthik Chadalavada, the Assistant Professor at the Department of Architecture in Andhra Pradesh, India, estimates that 40% of energy demands come from housing. This has become a more urgent issue demanding immediate action and multiple organisations are scrambling to find solutions.4 As globalisation spread, thatched roofs and mud huts were being looked at as primitive, forcing people even in rural areas to start building using more “modern” methods. This leads to the loss of craftsmanship and propels more and more people into lifelong loans to acquire and maintain their homes, building cycles of debt that are almost impossible to get out of. 5
Dr Lamaro Schoenleber states “The materials used in modern buildings trap heat, smells, moisture and are often derived using procedures that harm the environment.”. She continues to add that these construction methodologies hide under the guise of modernity and consumerism and have no regard for the long term effects on the environment.6 There is an upsurge in the use of huts in Africa especially because of the rising temperatures that global warming is causing, and they’re being used more commercially in hotels, pubs and other luxury tourist spots.7
Huts not only provide affordable and sustainable methods of housing but also help build a sense of community in African communities. This collective preservation of architectural craftsmanship brings communities together to pass down invaluable craftsmanship and traditional architecture generation to generation. It also provides peak privacy while keeping people close in a cluster.