Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Construction in Africa

Green and Sustainable Building

Going Green is an intriguing concept that has become quite popular in recent years. But what does it actually mean to “go green”?

The world is moving towards achieving sustainable living. This is through building houses in a manner that would not be harmful to the environment.

This requires the construction of eco-friendly buildings in Africa that use;

Organic materials, don’t cause pollution and harm the water cycle among other things. Reducing wastage such as excessive water usage is also important in this regard.

As the sustainable movement grows, there will be a need for more people to join hands in achieving it. Africa is working hard in this regard to ensure that it reduces its carbon footprint. Along with efforts to join the global movement towards a cleaner environment.

Eco-friendly construction in Africa requires architects who understand the value of a clean environment. These architects can build homes that reduce carbon footprints.

African architects like their fellows in the west understand that construction is one of the leading causes of pollution. This calls for the use of more natural materials when designing green homes.

A majority of Architects and property developers in Africa are now adopting and embracing the use of homegrown building materials. This is not only cuts on building costs, but is more environmentally friendly. This also shows their commitment to support efforts at creating sustainable construction methods.

Historical Aspect of Sustainable Building Practices

For centuries past, Africa has had sustainable building practices. But many of these ancient methods got lost to colonialism, and modernity. Today, these practices are now adapted to fit the modern methods of construction.

Many of the traditional techniques are now being re-lived. As time passes, people want more natural homes that are eco friendly. The olden day techniques are getting more popular. Embraced with modern adaptations to meet the expectations of different users.

African thatched-roof huts with brown clay walls
African thatched-roof huts with brown clay walls

Sustainable construction techniques are an important part of any green building initiative. Let’s look at some of these practices, still being utilized in Africa;

Mud Brick Buildings and Earthen Architecture

Mud bricks are made combining water with soil, sourced locally. They have excellent heating and cooling properties that make them perfect for absorbing heat during the day. They release it at night so homes stay cool in the hot seasons. Another great advantage of the cooling property is it maintains the temperature at the desired level.

Adobe Brick making 

This method uses clay combined with sand and straw as insulation against heat loss. It has low labour costs because materials can be easily found on-site (a pit oven dries bricks).

Clay has been used for centuries all over the world. It’s not only to make bricks and roof tiles but also as flooring and for plastering walls. It is a natural insulator that cools in the heat and retains warmth during the winter months.

Traditional Roofing

protect buildings from rainwater damage and other weather elements. In Africa, traditional roofing materials include straw raffia, palm leaves, sugar cane leaves. Baked clay is also used as a roofing material. In fact, many traditional homes in Africa still use natural material coverings today.


This is an ancient sustainable building material. Many cultures in Africa have used it for countless purposes. It is quite a versatile plant.

Besides being one of the fastest growing woody plants, it can grow in almost any type of soil. It is a lightweight and flexible material. It’s still used for flooring, roofing, walls, and using it as scaffolding rather than steel beams, etc.

Rammed Earth

The rammed earth technique is a mixture of laterite, clay and then granite chippings. The rammed earth technique uses local materials and tries to avoid cement, which can be toxic.

The significance of these building practices cannot be ignored. They have proved sustainable in many cultures and communities for centuries. Using locally sourced materials also reduces transportation requirements. This leads to decreased energy consumption and keeps CO² emissions down.

Adoption and Assimilation of These Practices

In today’s world of architecture, there is a push for sustainable construction practices. With an emphasis on energy efficiency and conservation.

This drive is no longer only important in developed countries. Green concepts are now adopted and applied throughout Africa. Many are now embracing these ancient and sustainable building practices.

The Eco Beam and Sandbag House

This is a creative and economic solution to housing. It’s one way for affordable housing across Africa. It’s built using inexpensive local materials that are easy on the environment.

Labour is usually sourced from future residents. This system of strong building material replaces brick-and-mortar with sandbags. These are cheaper than bricks and much quicker to set up. Yet offer strength and safety.

This makes this method of construction effective at delivering cheap houses all over the world. This building practice has been adopted by a real estate developer in Northern Uganda. They’re currently constructing a multiple housing estate, using the sandbag system.

Sandbag-House - Arua Uganda
Sandbag-House – Arua Uganda

South Africa leads as one of the countries with the greenest buildings on the continent. From a school made out of recycled shipping containers to Freedom Park, which has a number of sandbag houses.

Sandbag houses South Africa. Source:

With more eco-friendly construction materials adopted in local communities, Africa can truly be a continent of hope and growth.

Straw Bale Techniques

Straw has always been a common building material in Africa since the Old Stone Age era. It is seeing a modern comeback with the rise in the popularity of straw bale construction.

A variety of straw bale techniques of construction exist today. These range from straw bale housing to straw bale walls inside existing structures. Highlighting how versatile this technique is. Straw bales have high insulation qualities.

This keeps the building warm in the colder seasons and cools in summer. Another advantage of straw bale construction is that it does not need extensive experience. Straw as a building material has a low environmental impact. It is 100% biodegradable, meaning it can be reabsorbed back into the earth if it is no longer needed.

Straw Bale Cottage – South Africa: Source:
Mud Earth Construction

Construction using mud has stood the test of time. Many however attribute and associate it to rural dwellings, and shelter for the under privileged.

However, the adoption of ancient traditional methods of construction, with a twist of modernity has given rise to beautiful and environmentally friendly creations. This is in part due to African architects increasingly embracing local architecture and ancient buildings methods, and disproving the negative perceptions around it.

Tsavo House – Kenya.

Eco-friendly construction materials are now being adopted all around the African continent. People are more conscious of environmental preservation and embracing cleaner, sustainable building practices. Some of these communities have taken up sustainable agricultural practices like permaculture.

They also use renewable energy options such as solar to meet their power needs. The concept behind an eco-village is simple: live in harmony with nature. Adopting environmentally friendly building practices helps remove the present large ecological footprint.

The pressure to keep building is inevitable amidst all the chaotic social, political and economic factors. But there are ways to meet these challenges. Preservation of traditional knowledge by sharing it with others would be a step in that direction.

Some people may not even know about these resources. This is because they lack access to reliable sources. Information should be ready and available in local communities. With an emphasis on those with low access to digital and online resources.

Final Thought

The growth in the human population and demand for housing increase the need. So let’s build on our past learnings and work together.

In the past, Africa boasted of a variety of sustainable and solid building practices. There is growing interest to adopt and putting a modern twist to these ancient practices.

But these resources are still dwindling. This is due to a lack of interest in traditional methods and inadequate knowledge preservation of these valuable skills, which is another hindrance.

It is time these ancient sustainable building practices made a comeback. This can be through promoting traditional methods of construction. Along with the preservation of knowledge and sharing it with others.

Together we can create an environment where green architecture in Africa is standard practice. This can help us support sustainable development. At the same time, reduce the ecological footprint of Africa.

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