This is a view into our studio on site, where we painted 2 of the walls to make massive black boards and sat around the big table trying to come up with solutions to logistical and design issues. It is part of the building where we all lived, 20 m from where we were constructing the poured earth house
Before construction could begin, we were told we needed to ‘Bless the ground’ this consisted of a dribble of gin being poured onto the ground where the building was to be, before the rest of the bottle was guzzled by everyone who was going to help build!
Before we poured the walls of the mud earth house, we were determined to find the optimum mix of cement, earth and binders. We experimented with numerous combinationas and tried adding things such as ash, coconut husks, dried grass and cassava starch to try to strengthen the mix. Some definitely worked better than others, and we had fun putting the tests through all sorts of trials.
Once the site had been cleared (it was almost a jungle when we first arrived) and levelled, it was time to mark out our carefully drawn foundations on the site… using breezeblockas and string. This was the first taste of the difference between the crisp clarity of architecture on paper and the reality of construction in Ghana… With no electronic equipment to help us, we were using string and spirit level to try to achieve a level foundation and our trusty eyesight to test for right angles!
There were other brilliant building projects which had been completed throughout the village already. For example, this school canteen, however, unfortunately the cement-earth ratio of the bricks used in the the construction of this structure are not withstanding the heavy rains, and are beginning too erode. This reminded us how important it was to find a good cement – earth ratio which would withstand the tests of the the heavy Ghanaian rainy season.
We came up with a strategy to build wooden formwork to pour the strip foundation into. Which we then constructed with the help of the carpenters. The hardest part was then removing the formwork from the trenches once they had been filled up with concrete!
An idea for the roof was to use old oil drums, so we went around the village rounding up as many as we could, which turned out to be 21! In the end it was decided that actually, they were probably too heavy and rusty to provide a viable roof for the whole building, but were used at one end, over the veranda.
The supports for the A frames (which would hold the timber structure above the ground and so protect it from termites) had to be placed into the foundation as it was being poured, which took patience and as much precision as can be achieved with a tight piece of string and a spirit level.
This is a view of the completed foundations, before the formwork was laboriously removed with pick axe and brute strength!
On my final day we were able to begin lifting the wall formwork into place. It was exciting to see the structure of the house beginning to take shape.
These three weeks were an invaluable addition to my summer and my continued study of architecture. Having the opportunity to experience “architecture” from a completely different perspective from what I’m used to in the studio.
Thank you very much to the Principle’s Go Abroad Fund for making this trip possible.