Carré Hinnoudo origins in the story of a man from the African diaspora, Mister Théophile Mensah, who was wealthy - without actually being rich – and who was firmly believing in the human and material capital of his country. So during his retirement, he grew the idea of returning to his country to construct a house that benefits from locally available materials and traditional and modern construction techniques.
However, this apparently simple wish faced an unexpected problem:
The Western African building sector is almost exclusively promoting the use of concrete.
Constructions site and Buildings in Cotonou, Benin's economic capital
Far from being discouraged and still being convinced of the wealth and also youth of his country, he decided to devote a considerable amount of money - equivalent to the budget of four similar conventional modern houses - to build a house which serves as a prototype for experimentation and modernisation with new building techniques, a place for education and training as well as plattform for know-how exchange and dissemination of good practices evolving from the work on-site.
Eventually, a team grew around this wish of Mister Mensah and turned his desire into a project named CARRE HINNOUDO Model Home / Building Field School.
Hinnoudo, because this is Théophile Mensah’s traditional surname in Mina (local language), meaning “the tie of the family”. A meaning which actually also describes what architecture is: a structuring link between diverse disciplines around a single masterpiece.
Model, because it is essential to provide a real life example i.e. for Beninese people that in fact it is possible to build a house, which is affordable but also comfortable and able to meet modern life standard, by using locally available materials and know-how.
High-end construction quality should allow to convince people from the Beninese middle-class of the new Model. Since they are the ones who consecutively carry on trends to the poorer communities.
© Romain Boboé
School, "because experience is the best teacher and the question of how to best integrate the model in African communities, can only be answered through in-depth immersion in hands-on design challenge." Barthosa Nkurumeh Nka Foundation
Teaching is also the only way to turn a single architecture into a potentially scalable urban phenomenom.
Unlike in many building projects in Africa carried out by e.g. NGOs, in the practitioner- and user-centered approach prometed in this project, the enabling of potential dissemination of the model at Carré Hinnoudo matters more than the house itself. This way we hope to design something really sustainable.
And in order to share Carré Hinnoudo's experience, the process is documented on a dedicated blog.Guided tours aroud the construction site, articles and press reviews in local and specialized press, an open-air-exhibition for construction techniques on the compound of the carré (which means in Benin the Land estate) and a showroom for the professionnals will complete the communication and dissemination component of the project.
HANDS-ON ON-SITE TRAINING ON RAMMED EARTH TECHNIQUE, HOW DOES IT WORK?
© Romain Boboé
The project will involve several apprenticeship workshops on topics such as energy efficient construction, coco-fibre based isolation techniques or manifacturing of clay bricks etc. - with one on rammed earth technique being the most important among them.
Rammed earth is a technique for building walls, foundations and floors using natural raw materials such as earth, chalk, lime or gravel. Without containing any cement, rammed earth is as solid as concrete and moreover offers advantages in terms of quality of living conditions within the building, humidity regulation capacities and low energy demand during construction and clearly outbeats concrete. It is a low-cost, easy-to-use construction material guaranteeing good transversal ventilation and solar protection and offering a high thermal insulation capacities. Rammed earth is easily available as it uses local soil which offers an ideal mix of sand, clay and gravel. Formworking and casting the rammed earth is a skill that can easily be learned by almost any builder.
Thus this ancient building method has seen a revival in recent years as people seek more sustainable building materials and natural building methods.This technique is not only cost-efficient, reliable and ecologically sustainable, but also better ties in with the Beninese architecture tradition.
Neverthless one has to realize that there is local stigma associated with mud architecture. It is regarded as architecture for the very poor. This stigma also refers to expericences made in the past with buildings made of earth - who recurrently faced the problem of insufficient longevity. This is due to the fact that mud houses in the area are often very poorly constructed.
Thanks to the Austrian former Ceramist Martin Rauch, within the last decades, technical advancements and enhancements of mud construction techniques were made which make it possible to overcome this stigmas. Nowadays, this construction system suits perfectly the modern and urban life standards.
In November 2015, 2 of Martin Rauch's former apprentices traveled from Austria to the construction site in Porto Novo. The target of their travel was to identify required adaptions of the technique promoted by Martin Rauch to better meet Western African realities and also to optimize the embedding of the project in the the local construction economy so that practitioners can best benefit from the planned hands-on workshop. Among the targeted practitioners are stakeholders indirectly benefiting from the introduction of the technique such as miners who will deliver required basalt or granit, palm oil producers whose by-products will be used as aggregates or local craftsmen who will design the formworks and the specific tools. And those who will directly be benefiting from the new technique - like e.g.: construction practitioners (builders, engineers etc.) who can extend their services with a new technique which is cheap and competitive with concrete!
In the beginning of January, the two rammed earth specialists will return to Benin to provide a hands-on training at the construction site to 20 practitionners of the local construction sector such as builders, architects and engineers as well as unemployed people eager to learn something.
Kente House (Ghana) Agyongo © Angeles Hevia
In total, around 50 people will benefit from the training - either indirectly through the diversification of their activities and production, or directly through the formation and the structuring of their construction competences.
To sum up, rammed earth is a construction technique which is capable to fully meet the needs of the contemporary Africa, is ecologically sustainable and allows development of local economies.
Relying on-site practical experiences and thanks to its africa-centered approach (as well as due to the fact that it is almost completely financially covered), the Carré Hinnoudo project is a trustworthy, modern project which differes from the logic of the humanitarian and aid system.
But, there is always a "But".
Carré Hinnoudo is an individual's initiative that brings benefits to way more than one individual. Mister Mensah has decided to invest into this project because he believes in it. He can afford to cover 80%. He still requires nearly 20% of the necessary amount to ensure the completion of this initiative. In the end, it's a small amount, but it is an impossible task for a former account manager who already invests much more than the cost of a conventionnal house.
This is where you step in...
WHY PAYING FOR THE HOUSE OF AN INDIVIDUAL?
We need you to support a private initiative for a public interest!
Due to the fact that this a private initiative involving the the construction of a regular single-home, it is difficult to access conventional sources of funding. Most public donors will only promote projects like schools or hospitals where the immediate benefit - "the final product" - is more obviously serving a public interest or vulnerable groups so that the project impact can more easily be quantified and visualised. Sponsoring from building companies on the other hand, is also tricky to access, since they won't support alternative approaches competing with their own interest of offering conventionnal construction techniques and materials.
Efforts of development aid and development cooperation as well as corporate social responsibility, as honorable as they are, have their limits. Africa needs initiaves raised and implemented by Africans themselves where Western partners come in as equal partners to contribute complementary!
Only a participative-based crowdfunding enables to face the challenges of this new agile and human-centered approach. That's why we call upon you!