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Woodless construction

DW has been working in West Afica since 1980 and today is also a locally registered NGO in Burkina Faso as DWBF, and has been active in Burkina Faso since 1995.

In the countries of the Sahel, DW has promoted the development of sustainable housing and human establishments based on respect for existing values and on the availability of human, material and financial resources which are fundamental to a durable approach and to good management of the natural resources of the region. Needs and the availability of resources of the countries of West Africa are changing rapidly.

Women start their new kiln, Kelbo

Helping women potters in West Africa save 90% energy and make a better living

Nearly every small dusty village in northern Burkina Faso is home to one or more small groups of female potters. These hard working women produce the ceramic water jars, the pots to store food and other objects, and the traditional tubular gutters used on flat mud roofed houses. Selling their surplus is a vital complementary source of income, bringing in much needed cash in the harsh dry season and helping stave off starvation for the family.

Inside a dome under construction using the radial arm

The dome 

The dome is built withut any supporting shuttering with small mud bricks laid in a mud mortar.

The basic dome shape used in the Egyptian building tradition is hemispherical. Horizontal, concentric courses of unstabilized mud bricks are laid first at a shallow angle and then more sharply inclined as one builds the concentric

Radial arm positions bricks
rings higher and to wards the top. The distance from the centre of the dome and the angle of each brick is given to the builder by a wire or a radial arm which rotates around a central post . Bricks are placed side by side until a complete concentric circle of
Building modified nubian vaults from both ends of a room

The Woodless Construction vault - derived from Nubian vaults

Woodless Construction vaults are built without any supporting shuttering.

The basic vault form is very similar to that of an inverted catenary, the form taken by a chain suspended from its two ends, and thus, for the chain, a shape in pure tension. Since mud bricks are strong in compression and very weak in tension, it is important that the vault’s shape keeps the forces in compression. Inverting the form of the centenary provides this form, and the traditional Nubian vault respected this shape closely.

How people are taught  woodless construction

Deficiencies of “on-the-job” training 

Until 1987, the introduction of vault and dome building techniques was undertaken in Niger in the context of various programmes linked to rural development and to the management and conservation of local resources. The primary objective was to build rather than to train. Ad hoc “training” on-the-job, meant builders of widely varying experience and qualifications working on the construction of one or more buildings.

Skills for a better environment

DW’s main activities in Sahel and today principally in Burkina Faso have focussed on training and assistance to both men and women. The programme for training beginner builders to learn woodless construction is now in use by DW for over 15 years and follows a well tested curriculum, written in the Trainers Woodless Construction Training Guide. All training is done by local builders who have also been trzined by DW. The training divides the process into two parts.

            Part one, lasting three weeks, combines discussion of the theory and principles of

"Woodless Construction" is the name that has been given in the Sahel countries of West Africa to the construction of vault or dome roofed buildings using ordinary hand made mud or adobe bricks. The bricks for the walls and roofs are formed in simple rectangular moulds, smoothed by hand and dried in the open, using the same technique found in all the villages of the region. Both the vaults and the domes are built using techniques which have their origin thousands of years ago in Iran and Egypt.