Practice Details

Title of Practice: Affordable Housing for Sub-Saharian Africa s
Year: 2012
BPTag: Award Winner
Reference Number: BFA061-12
City / Town / Village: Boromo
Region: Africa & Arab States
Country: Burkina-Faso
Has this practice been submitted previously? No
Previous Title:
Address: AVN-BF
BP 505 0 Boromo
Burkina Faso
Tel : +33 (0)6 98 21 70 00
Name of Contact Person: Antoine HORELLOU
Email of Contact Person: antoine.horellou@lavoutenubienne.org

AVN's mission is to improve housing conditions through an appropriate architecture,as soon as possible, for as many people as possible. In sub-Saharan Africa, the struggle to obtain decent housing plunges millions of families into a vicious circle of poverty. AVN offers a solution to this problem, based on three integrated concepts:

·      a construction technique for appropriate roofs

·   built professionally by masons with the necessary skills

·      as part of emerging and actively promoted markets in affordable housing.

Association La Voute Nubienne (AVN) promotes the development of a self-sustaining market in Nubian Vaults construction for rural families and poor communities of Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Nubian Vault (NV) technique is an age-old method of timber less vault construction, originating in upper Egypt. It uses only earth bricks and earth mortar. Nubian vaults built over 3,000 years ago in Lu xor, Egypt, are still standing. During the last ten years, AVN has successfully introduced a simplified, standardized version of this ancient technique.

By facilitating the recruitment,on-site training, and support of village masons in several African countries(Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Zambia, Madagascar),  AVN's local teams and extension agents pump-prime[1]and enable the growth of indigenous markets in Nubian Vault construction,providing employment opportunities, access to an adapted architecture (decent housing, communities buildings, schools, mosques...) and the growth of local economic circuits.


Since the year 2000, AVN has seen an annual growth rate of 36% in the numbers of masons trained and vaults built. By June 2011, in Burkina Faso, Mali,Senegal, and Zambia:

·       Over 200 VN masons have been trained

·    Over 1,300 vaults built,for some 800 buildings (= 10 km of vaults if put end-to-end!)

·   Carbon savings of ~ 2,600tons of CO2-equivalent achieved compared to alternative construction methods

·      10,000 people (client families, masons, apprentices, laborers...) have benefited directly from NV buildings

·  Over 500,000 € of economic impact on local economies have been achieved.


AVN's work has achieved major international recognition (World Habitat Awards Finalist 2009, World Bank Development Marketplace Competition 2009, Tech Awards of Innovation 2007, Ashoka's Change makers Prize for Affordable Housing 2006

Key Dates: •1998 – First tests of technical adaptation of the NV technique to Burkina Faso’s contexts •November 2000 – Creation of the NGO in France – Association la Voute Nubienne •2005 – Creation of a proper AVN team in Burkina Faso •2009 – Contract signed with the government of Burkina Faso and creation of AVN-BF •2011 – Opening of the branch AVN-Mali with a local team and local offices
Norminating Organization Details
Name of Organization: AVN – Association la Voute Nubienne
Contact Person: Thomas GRANIER
Type of Organization: Non-Governmental Organisation

Name of OrganizationAddressContact PersonOrganisation TypeType of Support
Association Via Nebba (in France – with branch of the NGO in Burkina Faso)Les Berthieres
St Victor/Rhins
0033 (0) 4 74 64 13 86

Tony Rouge, moanu.gurma @wanadoo.frNon-Governmental OrganisationFinancial Support
Fondation d’entreprise Artelia6, rue de Lorraine
0033 (0)4 76 33 41 87
Alban Domergue, Alban.domergue @arteliagroup.comInternational AgencyFinancial Support, Technical Support
Terre & Humanisme (in France with local Partner UAVES in Mali)BP 19
0033 (0) 4 66 72 88 65

Anita Pellegrini, anitapc @terre-humanisme.frNon-Governmental OrganisationFinancial Support, Other
Association Africa bougouvia spluga 10
0039 33 52 35 848

Emilio Caravatti, studio @emiliocaravatti.itNon-Governmental OrganisationTechnical Support
Association Le Partenariat (in France with branch in Senegal)71, rue Victor Renard
0033 (0)3 20 53 76 76

Simon Marechal, coopartenaires @gmail.comNon-Governmental OrganisationFinancial Support, Other
World Bank – Development MarketplaceWashington DC

World Bank - Ouagadougou
(226) 70 26 77 10

Ergun Ertekin Or Emmanuel Nikiema , eertekin @worldbank.org and enikiema @worldbank.orgInternational AgencyFinancial Support
Service des eaux et forêtsProvince des Balés
Burkina Faso
Isidore Zongo, not providedLocal AuthorityFinancial Support
AshokaSocial Factory 
3, boulevard Saint Martin 
75003 Paris
+33 (0)1 80 05 96 55
Arnaud Mourot, amourot @ashoka.orgNon-Governmental OrganisationFinancial Support, Other

Climate Change
Economic Development

Situation Before the Initiative Began:
In sub-Saharan Africa, timber has always been used for roofing. Climate change, deforestation and increasing population growth mean that traditional building techniques are no longer feasible. Rural families have to dip into their meager food, health, and education budgets to buy imported and expensive corrugated iron sheets, thus are locked into a vicious circle of poverty and squalor. Over 50% of the population of the Sahel region (ar.100 million people) lack access to decent, safe, housing.
Establishment of Priorities:
Rural and semi-rural families and communities are our priority target group. Because of desertification and lack of resources, these groups are most in need of decent housing, and the NV concept is one that is appropriate and affordable, and with the greatest potential impact for good. Over 80% of AVN's resources are committed to this high priority sector.
This group includes and benefits :
 The masons which are trained and thus have a job
 The clients which have assess to affordable housing
 Their wives and children
 The rest of the AVN's team (extension agents, AVN's employees, …)
 Local communities (building of schools, mosques, ...)
 The global population which benefits of the AVN's program impacts

As the NV concept becomes better known, other groups (urban families, local authorities, NGO's...) are appearing and expanding the market for trained NV builders and entrepreneurs.
Formulation of Objectives And Strategies:
Between 2000 and 2008 we studied the social impact and demand for the NV technology, and the basis of the transmission between masons and apprentices. Now we have designed a very innovative methodology in order to spread it as soon as possible by pump-priming local markets for the technique.
The World Bank Development Marketplace has recognized this methodology. It is based on four-year Pilot Village and Pilot Zone Deployment Programs (PVDP / PZDP), to help generate a sustainable local construction market in each selected region. AVN sells this deployment methodology to local governments or NGOs: thanks to us, these clients will achieve their objectives, generating independent businesses, taxes, social and environmental impacts quickly in the field. Once the market is pump-primed, we can withdraw our support and move to new areas.
Mobilisation of Resources:
AVN is a networked transnational organization, with:
• a management team in France (4 staff) responsible for overall planning, fund-raising, liaison with sponsors and partners, and IT support
• a national team in Burkina Faso (9 local and 2 expatriate staff), responsible for implementing the program in Burkina Faso and Senegal
• a national team in Mali (3 local staff, 1 expatriate architect)
• an affiliate, AVN-Belgium, responsible for fund-raising for AVN programs in Zambia and Botswana.
These experienced teams work with the community of 200+ independent NV masons to run the current scaling up of the Program.

AVN has worked successfully with many field partners:
• in Burkina Faso: Arquitectos Sin Fronteras, Assoc. Via Nebba, La Tortue Voyageuse, Fondation Besix...
• in Mali: Africabougou, Fondation Artelia, Association Terre&Humanisme, Intervida, AIADD-Solidarité...
• in Senegal: Le Partenariat-St Louis, Océanium.

Financial sponsorship has come from: the Ensemble Foundation, the Hermes Foundation, SolidarCité-PPR, the Veolia Foundation (France); the Triodos Foundation (Netherlands); BESIX (Belgium). AVN receives donations from hundreds of individual 'social investors', and is also helped by committed volunteers in Europe.

AVN has received major international accolades:
• Winner, Ashoka Change makers Competition, Affordable Housing, 2006
• Tech Museum Awards Laureate (USA), Economic Development, 2007
• One of 11 Finalists, World Habitat Award, 2009
• One of 25 Laureates, World Bank Development Marketplace Competition, Adaptation to Climate Change, 2009
• SEED Award prize-winner, 2012
• Semi-finalist, Buckminster Fuller Challenge, 2012
The main difficulty lay in expanding the program beyond Boromo (AVN-BF Headquarters): we noticed that, over the years, the expansion of the program far from Boromo led to a slowdown in the growth of the program.
After discussions with stakeholders, we realized the importance of having a convincing local relay or 'champion' committed to the Nubian Vault (NV) concept.
After 2 years, it seems that the strategy has paid off, but more time is needed in order to judge the real rate of growth of the program.
The involvement of local communities has inevitably been highly significant, as the VN approach is so firmly anchored in the community and in local economic circuits; 68% of the clients of NV masons are subsistence farmers and their families and local community members.

At the beginning Thomas Granier and Seri Youlou made a first technical demonstration in Boromo. They progressively informed people (men and women, communities, organizations, institutions) around them. A group of local farmers started to be trained in the NV technique and various supporters became involved in international campaigns. The AVN Association was created, bringing together the major stakeholders of the project. First rural organization begun to partner with AVN, helping to spread the word about the technique, linking AVN’s masons with clients… Public authorities get involved quite late: their real interest began in 2010, by inviting AVN to present its methodology and proposal to local committees in order to implement it on their territories.
As “franchised partners”, several stakeholders manage now the project directly in the village/region where they work. One of their local staff or collaborators is trained by AVN in the pump-priming method, and is guided and supported by AVN throughout the project lifetime.

Twice a year a big meeting takes place in Burkina Faso and Mali, to gather all the AVN's actors (Staff, masons, extension agents...) in order to evaluate results and improve strategy and methodologies. The program's evolution is based on the outcomes coming from the local population involved in the program.

Reports of results (constructions, masons trained, deployment in villages, success of the methodology...) are produced for every building season in the different countries of action and an annual report is produced every year (available in French) in France on the basis of the results in the field.
A manual for the extension agents is produced in order to follow the missions on the field.
AVN has also produced a detailed document which collects all the results and impacts of the AVN program, Monitoring & Evaluation.
Results Achieved:
Financially: the pump-priming activities are funded by local or international public authorities and NGOs. The cost of this initiative is covered by the local and national economical impacts.
- Comfortable : due to the excellent thermal and acoustic insulation properties of earth construction;
- Durable : NV buildings have a far longer lifetime than those with corrugated iron and timber roofs, and maintenance is simple;
- Affordable: 100% of the buildings are paid for entirely by the clients. Only locally available raw materials (earth, rocks, and water) are used, favouring local economic circuits and self-sufficiency;
- Efficient: the major part of the 200 NV masons has no other jobs or have left their farmer jobs to become NV masons. The poverty assessment tool we use estimates that 100% of our masons have a better quality of life thanks to this new job. Since 2000, AVN’s program has generated of the equivalent of more than 1 000 000 US$ worth of revenue with 30% annual growth.
- Modular - applicable to a wide range of buildings (houses, schools, health centres...), of different styles (flat terrace roofs, two-storey buildings, courtyard buildings...), which are easily extendible;

- Vernacular: incorporating traditional practices and aesthetics of earth architecture.
- Protects landscape and traditional customs by reducing the use of metal roofing sheets and restoring the traditional uses of earth plaster, the roof-terraces (drying and coating, etc.). and attics (storage of crops)

- Mitigation of deforestation and associated risks - no corrugated iron roofing sheets, nor timber beams, rafters, or supports;
- Carbon neutral - none of the construction materials are manufactured, or transported long distances, or do any trees need to be cut down. ERM study estimates that every NV saves 2 tons of CO2 eq.;

AVN has proven track records of successful partnerships with public authorities in Burkina Faso and neighbouring countries, with a wide range of NGOs and Public National and International Institutions which integrate the NV concept into their activities, modifying their policies.
Lessons Learned:
1st lesson : to stay as simple as possible, in the construction techniques, in the apprenticeship programmes, and in the relationships between the different actors in the Programme (AVN-International, AVN-BF, the VN builders, and our field partners). It is a lesson of adaptation : because beneficiaries are “simple” people, and because the challenge is quite urgent, it is necessary to provide a simple technique that can be taught and transferred quickly.
2nd lesson : to stay as close as possible to the rural communities involved in the Programme, and to build the growth of the Programme on solid foundations in the informal sector, reducing dependency on the cash economy as far as is feasible. For example our local teams do not have university degrees, and do not come from urban areas.
3rd : the AVN per se must not get involved directly, as a building contractor – none of the VN constructions have been built by the Association. The role of AVN-International, and of national centres such as AVN-BF, is to put potential clients in touch with experienced VN builders, and not to finance or sell VN buildings on the account of the Association.
4th : to provide an environment in which local and national centres, VN teams, and individual VN builders, reduce their dependence on the International Association and the Programme, and become autonomous. The AVN does not dictate, for example, how VN builders should operate. AVN doesn’t pay the masons, and the masons do not pay AVN. This is the idea of “compagnonnage”
5th : to evaluate and link with other initiatives, other NGOs and academic institutions. Such initiatives, combined with the interest aroused by the AVN Website and Newsletter, help to raise AVN's profile and to integrate the Program into the wider community of practitioners and researchers in the field of earth architecture and of economic development .
AVN’s Program is itself a “technology-transfer” program, as its aim is to make sure, as many people as possible, that the maximum number of people will have access to the NV technology. Therefore, our entire technique and dissemination method has been designed for this purpose. Several market-based initiatives inspired us, for example Agrisud, which enabled the creation of thousands of small agricultural businesses, disseminating quickly specific agricultural know-how.
In the beginning, AVN's Program expanded organically, with little help from other organizations. Nowadays, AVN's expansion is based on regions and zones (each 120 km radius), either using our own field staff, or through franchisees we have trained. In new countries, we operate as follows:
•Identification of a local partner with a Regional Focus
•Training of the partner's staff in NV promotional methods
•The partner runs the program with 1 or 2 AVN team members
•After the first tests, a local AVN entity is created in the new country
•Identification of other Regional partners in order to expand the NV market on a national scale
•Dissemination of the program on a national level
•The program moves on once the NV market is autonomous.

AVN estimates that it will be possible to pump-prime the market throughout the Sahel by 2025.
Related Policies:

Yes, several municipal and regional public authorities have supported our practice. AVN helps them to include its method in their policies.

AVN is in touch with several local authorities in each of its deployment territories. Usually, and with the help of  AVN’s 'champion', the municipality and regional authorities invite the local team of AVN (or one franchisee) to present the methodology to the decision-makers. Then a convention is signed between AVN and the local authorities. This convention is included in local policies.

On a wider basis, AVN is currently involved in GDT (Plan de Gestion des Terres) program held in Mali, as part of an international plan called “Great Green Belt[1]” .

AVN has also presented its pilot program to Burkina Faso's national authorities who want now to work together on national strategies.

[1]           http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Green_Wall

Title of Article: Source (include author, publication title, volume/number, date, and page number(s):
- 'Learning by Doing' , Y-Jean Mun-Delsalle, FuturArc, March 2010
- 'Public buildings in the mali Republic, DOMUS Magazine, June 2008, pp 10-20
- 'Earth roofs for the Sahel', Finalist, submission for World Habitat Award 2009, http://www.worldhabitatawards.org/winners-and-finalists/project-details.cfm?lang=00&theProjectID=18A40644-15C5-F4C0-994A30CB571B55F4
- 'The Nubian Vault: Earth Roofs in the Sahel' , Granier, T, Kaye, A. , Ravier, J, & Sillou, D., delivered at the conference Living in Hot Deserts, Ghardaia, Algeria, Dec 2006

Supporting Material:
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