Evans Essienyi, AHI West Africa Associate
From the Nzima pile dwellings of Nzulezo in the far West of Ghana near the border with Ivory Coast, to the Ewe villages in the hills of the Volta Region, indigenous people use building methods and architecture which evolved from their environment, receiving their form through the geology, topography and climate of the area, and influenced by the social and historical development of the region. Throughout the rural areas and the fishing communities along the coast, these traditional construction methods are still employed.
There are three typical types of wall construction in this area, the wattle and daub wall, the Atakpame wall, and the wall from sundried bricks.
1. WATTLE AND DAUB
The desired shape of the building is marked out with the help of pegs and strings. Holes are dug into the ground at regular intervals along the outline of the building. Vertical posts which are to carry the roof structure are inserted into the holes and stabilized with stones rammed around the base. The framing process is executed with the laying of the floor slab. The horizontal and vertical members of the framework are tied in before the mud is applied. When the framework is completed the roof is built. After the roof, wet molded mud balls are pressed and worked into the framework of the walls to a thickness of 150 to 200mm. Generally, the walls are only smoothened, but in some cases they are rendered with a soft mud and sand mixture. The framing method of construction allows the builder to complete the walls when he has the necessary help in a few days, since he need not wait for each course to set and dry before he lays the next one as in the Atapkame process. The walls also require no cover during rain, as the roof is already completed.
2. ATAKPAME WALLS
The origin of this building process can be traced to the town Atakpame in Togo. Although building with molded wet mud balls is common in the northern part of Ghana, the “Atakpame” method refers to a rectangular wall laid out by the builder with pegs and a string. A pit is dug near the building place, the mud mixed with water, kneaded with bare feet, and then molded into balls of about 200mm diameter. Courses of up to 600mm in height are laid, each course covered with palm leaves and allowed to set and dry out gradually before the next course is added. Wet mud cannot bear its own weight and would slump otherwise. Each course is properly leveled out on the top. Openings for windows and doors are noted and left during construction. The wall thickness is generally about 300mm. After five courses a wall height (excluding the foundation) of approximately 2.50m has been reached. When the last course is still wet, holes are made into it every 600mm at the top through which ropes are drawn for fixing the wall plate of the roof framework. Another way of supporting the roof is by driving short forked sticks into the top of the wall over which the framework is laid and tied. Lintels over doors and window openings are pieces of the Fan Palm. The walls are generally not rendered and the pronounced horizontal lines of the courses are clearly visible. Quite often, a plaster mix of mud and bitumen is also used for rendering.
3. SUN-DRIED BRICK WALLS:
Mud is dug up From a borrow-pit close to the building, mixed with water, and kneaded. The mixture is then pressed into wooden casts. The size of a brick is approximately 200 x 90mm. A drying shed is erected with timber posts, beams and a thatched roof. Under this the bricks are left to dry slowly. This may last, depending on the weather, up to two weeks. The bricks are laid with mud-sand mortar, or a weak cement-sand mortar where cement is available.
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