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Woodless Construction - earth vault & dome roofing

"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. The most important characteristic of these earth roofs is that they are built without any supporting shuttering during construction. Thus the entire structure - walls, lintels, and roofs - is built with locally available earth, in the region where earth buildings already has a long and rich tradition .

Why Woodless Construction?

The majority of dwellings in the Sahel depend on the use of organic materials for the structure of the roof, and often for the walls as well. Flat-roofed buildings typically use large beams and intermediary battens to provide the support for grass woven mats and the compacted earth covering on the roof. Thatched roof structuresalso use pole branches and roots to support grass, straw or reed thatch. Surveys in the region show that for almost ail such structures the availability and quality of wood or branches has declined severely in the past twenty years. Finding good wood (species such as the doum palm or the borassus palm, highly favoured for their ability to resist termite attack and to provide good structural strength and long durability) has become almost impossible as the biggest single source of degradation is excessive cutting of trees Fuel-wood is one major cause for consumer, but wood for building requires cutgin wholme stems.

Woodless Construction was developed to provide a viable, affordable and accessible alternative to this dual problem - how to alleviate pressure on the threatened natural resources of the Sahel and at the same time to make building by the population easier, durable and affordable.

Woodless construction…

… makes quality buildings using unfired earth bricks and vault and dome roofs.

No cement, no presses, no corrugated iron.

Using woodless construction techniques, the builders trained by DWF can undertake a wide range of buildings, from simple single-room forms to high quality villas and offices.

Using woodless construction has many advantages…

  • Protects the environment, saves trees, because no wood is used in the building – a climate change bonus!
  • Addresses poverty, because itgenerates local revenue by using local labour and local materials, thus benefiting the local economy
  • Provides an exceptional degree of natural, ecological climate comfort.
  • Avoids the need to obtain costly permits for cutting wood
  • Achieves decent and sustainable housing
  • Offers a flexible building system responding  to each persons resources : the owner can decide on the quality of interior and exterior finishings, which can be basic or very high quality.

And in the Sahel?

Woodless construction has existed in the Sahel for the past 30 years. Using the training programme developed by DWF, many hundreds of builders have been trained in Niger, in Mali, in Mauritania and in Burkina Faso, and thousands of buildings constructed.

Using local resources

Using local resource such as earth and water, as well as using local skills, has an economic impact not only for the builders, but for a whole range of suppliers. A lot of people earn their living as a result of woodless construction formal sector activities