It is a neighborhood that is unlike the rest of Lomé, the capital of Togo. The buildings are tall, the roundabouts huge and the facades crisscrossed with tinted windows. Right in the middle of this administrative district, a 3,000 m2 space contrasts with the rest of the landscape. There is nothing here except a few trees, probably the only ones in the neighborhood that haven’t been squared. In the hot rain, five workers construct a reddish building. It’s not a building and it’s not cement. “This is a stabilized compressed earth brick construction. The earth used comes from here, ”says Rolande Konou Akpedze, pointing to the hole a worker is digging.
The young Togolese is the urban architect of this modest urban park, known as the “FAO park”. “We could have built another tower on this land, made something modern, without thinking about protecting the environment. But we decided to transform this dilapidated park into a pleasant green space and, above all, made with local materials. “In fact, the fences are made of bamboo from the Plateaux region, the carved stones of the entrance arcade come from Kpalimé, 120 km away, and soon the small building will market Togolese food products.
Experts call this design “vernacular architecture”. Or how to construct buildings taking into account available local materials, climate and traditions. “In African architecture, this is what is buzzing right now. I learned this at school and I integrate it in many of my projects, because I think it is high time that African architects take appropriate measures so that the construction of our spaces is not modeled on the Western cities, ”argues Rolande Konou Akpedze, heading towards her old campus.
His school is EAMAU, the African School of Architecture and Urban Planning. A unique school, or almost, in West Africa, founded in 1976 by the African and Mauritian Common Organization (OCAM, since disappeared) and which has already trained more than 1,000 professionals in the issues of sustainable building and construction. vernacular architecture.
Rolande never really left campus. A student until 2013, she then became a teacher. “He is Doctor Ogalama, one of the most famous teachers in the school,” she slips as, in a classroom, twenty first-year students listen attentively to the debriefing of their students. practical work. We are in an urban management course, one of the three main streams offered to aspiring architects.
“Me, that’s what interests me, that’s why I entered school. I want to be able to manage cities in Africa. As our continent is developing, everything remains to be done ”, whispers Claude, a Chadian student, so as not to disrupt the course. On the board, Béranger, from Benin, draws the contour lines of a city. In three years, once they return to their respective countries, these apprentice architects, originating from fourteen French-speaking African countries, will have the power to shape cities.
Borrow from tradition
For her part, Grace, who comes from Burkina Faso, sees it in a much more pragmatic way. “In three years, when I get out of school, if I want to go to Cameroon, Togo or Benin, I will have connections. This mixture opens doors for us and allows us to enrich our work with the cultures of these countries, ”she smiles. Her favorite class is called “African Spaces”. “We make presentations on the peoples of Africa, their lifestyles, their habitats. We learn their construction techniques and that gives us ideas. ”
Obviously, when we ask Grace which architect inspires her, she who thinks that the vernacular and the sustainable are the only paths to take to shape the African cities of the future, she answers: Diébédo Francis Kéré. The Berlin-trained star architect from Burkina Faso has kept his roots deeply buried in the earth of his native village, Gando, in the south-east of the country. In the middle of the bush, his futuristic-looking primary school, built of mud bricks and covered with a clay ceiling, has become a model for EAMAU students.
In a few years, they hope to change the face of their cities. By now, they have already understood that modernity also lies in borrowing from tradition.