Indigenous Knowledge as a Key to Sustainable Architecture: Western Africa


A domestic building’s fundamental purpose is to provide a comfortable environment, protected from the extremes of the climate, as well as respond to site, setting, and context. However, over the years, the building sector has become one of the largest energy consumption sectors (alongside food, and transportation) that together place a substantial and increasing burden on the environment. The building sector, directly and indirectly, is itself responsible for 40% of the energy use, material use, and greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions in the world.

West Africa, like many other world regions has been facing serious challenges in attempts to meet sustainability goals, and adapt to the changing climate. One of the forms that this challenge takes is to actively threaten the regions current architecture practices. Modern buildings stand against the needs of the environment in which they reside therefore, making the design unfit for its context. Moreover, the increasing influence from Europe in building sector has undermined the prevalence of traditional, environmentally sustainable, structures in the region. However, all is not lost and these traditional forms of architecture still offer benefits, over Modern alternatives.

For this reason, the hypothesis that indigenous architecture practices can be a solution to assist in reducing carbon emissions in the context of West Africa was formed. The results show that some principles that West African indigenous people abide by do indeed reduce the amount of carbon emissions. Although there are limitations such as to the absence of information available for the West Africa region and lack of continuity in cultural practices due to colonisation, it is evident that sourcing materials locally is one of the keys to a sustainable built environment. The study concludes by affirming the hypothesis that West African typical traditional building techniques and design result in less environmental impact vis-à-vis Western architectural modes.

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