An Elucidation of the Architecture of the Sudano-Sahelian Region of West Africa

Dr. Theophilus Shittu, University of Northampton, UK

The Sudano-Sahelian region in Africa is the area between the Sahara and the guinea savannah belts, which also stretched latitudinal from western to eastern central Africa. This part of the sub-continent records low annual rainfall in comparison with other parts of the region and many other sub-Saharan countries.  The long uninterrupted dry season makes it possible for the inhabitant of this region to use earth mostly sun-dried earth bricks or cob as a walling material and reinforced earth for roofing. This monolithic earth construction system in this region is often referred as the Sudano-Sahelian architecture. Although earth was predominantly used as building material in this region, the style and construction techniques are different. Each culture has distinctive style that reflects its culture and technique that responses to slight variation in climate. However, despite this regional identity, the use of earth is gradually becoming unpopular in this region due to varying factors, such as preference of cementious material, dearth of skill labour and the effect of climate change. Of importance to this study is the origin of this architecture and external influence through migration as documented in various research.  However, there are conflicting accounts on these two factors and this is what this study is aimed at clarifying. Through comparative studies of literature from ethnographers, sociologists, art and architecture historians, architects, conservationists, documented accounts of visitors and early explorers to this region, indigenous cultural and religious belief of various culture that are intertwined with this architecture and most importantly archaeological evidences, the author aimed at tracing the true origin of this architectural style, as well as identifying the external influences that informed this distinct style, if at all there are.   

Theophilus Shittu is an architect and researcher with a passion for sustainability, traditional and vernacular architecture. His philosophy is that traditional architecture still has a place in the contemporary world if adapted to current situations and needs. Based on this premise, he has designed and constructed contemporary buildings in traditional style using traditional materials in a refined form to meet today’s challenges. His publications also centred around these areas. Theophilus is currently a Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader at the University of Northampton.