In kibaoni, a small tanzanian village close to the kenyan border, SoPA (social practice architecture) has completed a school library built out of rammed earth. Importantly, the project uses traditional construction methods rather than imported materials and techniques, which are often inefficient with a detrimental effect on the environment. The ‘Amani library’ can serve as an example to future developments, including the region’s rural housing.
In Tanzania building with earth represents the past and is associated with poor living conditions. Traditional materials and techniques adapted to the environment are abandoned in favor of importing expensive and sometimes energy-inefficient materials and products, such as concrete blocks, from which only manufacturers in more advanced economies benefit. The project aims to bring back earth as a modern and sustainable building material, using traditional handcraft and simple methods, for continuing a local rural building tradition. It also encourages local and international participation and can serve as an example for future building developments to improve the quality of Tanzania’s rural housing.
The Amani library´s architecture provides different kinds of spaces and uses to promote a different approach to reading and learning, as an alternative to the typical frontal approach to lessons. Enclosed by thick earth walls and with access from the school, there is a multidisciplinary room for workshops meetings and lessons. The reading room is light and open with one of the façades connected to the verandah, creating a large space for recreation and movement.
The project is mainly constructed from using two materials: soil excavated from the site and locally collected wood. On-site production offered the possibility of employing local material and the same excavated soil for wall construction. The perimeter of the library is built with load-bearing walls using the rammed earth technique. Apart from its structural capacity, the earth regulates indoor humidity and temperature, saves energy and reduces environmental pollution. Also, it is re-usable and saves expenses in material acquisition and transportation. Local handcraft can be found, among others, on the cypress doors and the bamboo enclosure at the verandah, as a way of promoting and strengthening the participation of local craftsmen, as well as raising awareness to the value of cultural heritage.
The construction of Amani Library was carried out in a short timeframe of four months through a workshop with both Kibaoni inhabitants and international participants. The workshop was regarded as a learning experience through an immersive, collaborative design-build project.
The approach carries a developmental character, acting as “seed”, as it seeks to form a knowledge base that can contribute to the potential return of traditional materials and techniques in solving the problem of low-cost housing in rural environments.