Soil is a natural body consisting of layers (soil horizons) of primarily mineral constituents of variable thicknesses, which differ from the parent materials in their texture, structure, consistence, color, chemical, biological and other physical characteristics.[1]

Sustainable construction requires an integrative thinking of various possible local available materials, skills and know-how. There is a need to enhance vernacular construction and material knowledge to cope with the dramatic need for new urban dwellings. This knowledge must be based on integrative modes of thinking, combining design, construction, building physics, sociology, energy, ecology and economy. If local construction materials and their application could be made available to the wide public in developing territories, local value chains could be build up using a very low-cost and easy to obtain material.[2]

Vaulted earth masonry at the SUDU project in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Source: Lara Davis and BLOCK Research Group ETHZ Zuerich)

The countries around the equator belt have almost all a very rich soil, which contains high levels of clay particles. In this light, almost all material excavated from construction sides are a possible source for material needed to build new structures. Might it be “rammed earth”, “earth masonry” or “vaulted earth tile” technology, all of them have the possibility to be low-cost and very efficient. The research will also target the existing multi-criteria environmental constraints of heavy seasonal rains (e.g. drainage details and waterproofing), highly expansive vertisol soils (e.g. foundation details and soil stabilizers), and seismic activity (e.g. connection details and reinforcing).

[1] Peter W. Birkeland, Soils and Geomorphology, 3rd Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999
[2] Dirk Hebel: The Vernacular Rediscovered, in: Re-Inventing Construction, ed. by Ilka and Andreas Ruby, Ruby Press, Berlin 2010

SUDU publication

SUDU cover

On December 01, 2015, Ruby Press Berlin publishes SUDU, Research and Manual, edited by Dirk E. Hebel, Melakeselam Moges and Zara Gray.  SUDU—the Sustainable Urban Dwelling Unit—is a full-scale prototype for an affordable, two-story house built with local materials and traditional building techniques in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. Developed in a collaborative endeavor between the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development and ETH Zurich, SUDU ties in with the rich tradition of loam construction while at the same time taking a fresh look at how to adapt this tradition to contemporary needs.

Recapitulating SUDU’s idiosyncratic construction process in two lavishly illustrated volumes, this publication details the building techniques employed, such as rammed earth, mud bricks, and timbrel vaulting. The first volume additionally explores the history of Ethiopian architecture, the postcolonial nature of its current construction industry, and the challenges of the country’s rapid urbanization. The second volume, a manual with more than 600 detailed drawings and instructions, demonstrates how to build a house, step-by-step, with the most readily available building material—earth.

Rural Housing research project in Ethiopia enters its final phase with a stakeholders forum


On Tuesday, April 28, 2015, a stakeholders forum in Butajira city to place to present and discuss further steps of the Rural Housing research project, a combined research project of EiABC and ETH Professorship Dirk E. Hebel, with representatives of Guraghe Zone Administration, City Government, Bete Guraghe Cultural Center, colleagues from Wolkite University and Wolkite Polytechnic College and other stakeholder.

In his opening speech, EiABC Scientific Director Joachim Dieter explained the role and importance of housing research for the development of the rural areas and the meaning of experimental and applied research in full scale for the education of Architects, Construction Manager and Urban Planner at the Institute.

Project Manager Melekeselam Moges and his team explained in their presentation the achievements of the SRDU project, the current state of research on the continuation project, improvements in it’s design and technical aspects as building materials and construction methods, while possible collaborations and partnerships with local authorities, University and Polytechnic, communities and NGO have been evaluated.

All topics of the presentation had been commented and discussed with the invited guests to reach maximum acceptance and learn from previous valuable experiences.

This research project is supported and facilitated by Switzerland’s Arthur Waser Foundation, the ETH Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, and ETH-Global.

The team of EiABC included both wings of the management, academic and administrative, and was represented by Scientific Director Joachim Dieter, Managing Director Dr. Beatrice Delpouve, Project Manager Melakeselam Moges and his team, Chairholder Imam Mahmoud – Chair of Housing, Head of Finance Shimeles Habtamu, and the Head of International Relations, Mr. Agus Prianto. The event was concluded with a visit of the future project site.

SUDU featured in Goethe Institute Exhibition

wa 2014-02-19 goethe AA - exhib eiabc-BH 010

The Goethe Institute Addis Ababa opened a new exhibition last week featuring several prototypologies from the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EiABC) and the ETH Zurich, Future Cities Laboratory Singapore, Professorship Dirk E. Hebel. Displayed in models, plans and images, SUDU, SICU, SECU and SAMU propose alternatives for the provision of housing in Addis Ababa. The Sustainable Urban Dwelling Unit (SUDU), proposes a dense, two- or even three-story structure in a row house typology . The idea is to offer inhabitants a possibility to construct their own houses without waiting for government programs or private/public developers. Furthermore, when constructed over a period of time, depending on the financial resources of its residents, smaller units like SUDU activate private capital for the housing sector. The exhibition was organised by Prof. Dirk Donath and Eva Hartmann.

SUDU and SECU at the AFRITECTURE exhibition Munich, Germany


CoReSing is exhibiting the research projects SUDU and SECU as a joint effort of the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development and the Bauhaus University Weimar at the AFRITECTURE exhibition of the Architekturmuseum, Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, Germany. Additionally, the exhibition features the two movies “Disappearing Spaces” and “Emerging Spaces” from the cinematic research project by Felix Heisel and Bisrat Kifle.

In the accompaning catalogue, Prof. Dirk E. Hebel is featured with three articles (one with Prof. Dirk Donath of Weimar University) explaining the efforts of CoReSing on establishing alternative building materials and construction methods in Africa and how this doing could be reflected in architectural education programs.

Contemporary architectural practice in Africa is witness to many new and innovative approaches in the area of socially committed building: schools, nursery schools, marketplaces, hospitals, cultural centers, sports facilities and assembly halls. It is these public buildings and commonly used spaces in particular where signs of new utility and architectural concepts are made manifest. In many cases, future users are directly involved in the design and building processes. In addition to the use of the latest technology many of the construction projects are being developed with local materials and resume dormant building traditions.

In its exhibition »AFRITECTURE – Building Social Change« the Architekturmuseum der TU München sheds a spotlight on those projects, with a particular emphasis on those that have been initiated by architects and whose conceptualization incorporates global relationships in addition to those of local culture and individual social groups. By taking into account ecological, economic and social aspects several architects have developed sustainable approaches and solutions to some of the continent’s most pressing design challenges. The exhibition comprises twenty-eight projects from ten countries within Subsaharan Africa, including Kenya, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and South Africa. All projects have been developed since the turn of the millenium and have been planned by African as well as European and North American architects.

Building with Earth Workshop in Ethiopia

PhD Candidate Lara Davis of the Professorship of Architecture and Construction Dirk E. Hebel at SEC/FCL Singapore held this seven day intensive workshop to introduce students of architecture and urbanism and local technical-vocational (TVET) trainees to the concepts and practical aspects of building with earth with contextual sensitivity in Ethiopia.  For each day of the workshop, one half-day was devoted to field study and practical exercises, which allowed students to develop hands-on material-based knowledge.  Afternoon lectures provided the conceptual framing for theoretical study, documentation, and reflection.

The topics covered attempted to demonstrate the link between the fundamental properties of soil, its effective use as a building material, and strategies for context and climate-responsive design in earthen masonry.  Lectures and practical sessions addressed:  sampling and selection of soils in the field, properties and behavior of soil, empirical methods of soil testing and modification, chikka plastering and adobe block production, techniques and design principles of earthen masonry, mechanical properties of earthen masonry (compression, shrinkage and shear), construction of arches and vaults, applied structural principles, and climate-responsive detailing for weather and site conditions.  Beyond the various activities, students constructed a single curved earthen vault with the Nubian vaulting technique.  The workshop was concluded with student presentations.

Swiss Foundation sponsors Professorship Dirk Hebel FCL Singapore and EiABC on the research of Sustainable Rural Housing Strategies in Ethiopia

Zuerich/Addis Ababa/Singapore March 2012

The Arthur Waser Foundation, based in Lucerene Switzerland, recently agreed to sponsor a continuous research project called SRDU (Sustainable Rural Dwelling Unit) in Ethiopia to the tune of 460,000 Swiss Francs over the next three years. The project builds on an academic research cooperation between the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EiABC) in Ethiopia and the Professorship of Dirk E. Hebel of Architecture and Construction at the Singapore-ETH Centre for Global Environmental Sustainability and the Future Cities Laboratory (FCL) in Singapore.

Professor Dr. Elias Yitbarek initiated the project in 2010 as part of his work at the Chair of Housing at the EiABC and has secured funding from the Arthur Waser Foundation for a pilot project in 2011, with the support of the North-South Centre of ETH Zurich, Barbara Becker and the ETH Foundation, Nathalie Fontana. The pilot was regarded as a great success. It involved building two housing units located approximately 250km south of the capital Addis Ababa, and experimentation with local building materials combined with new building techniques and autonomous operating energy supply units. This success convinced the Arthur Waser Foundation to continue the engagement with the two universities and enlarge the scope of the work to include questions of capacity building, academic exchange with local schools and industry and the transfer of knowledge to a wide academic and non-academic audience in Africa.

Lara Davis, PhD researcher working under the supervision of Dirk E. Hebel at the ETH in Zurich, will fully concentrate her work on the development of technical solutions in earthen masonry systems, which address challenges posed by environment conditions, as well as constraints in available building materials and skilled labor. She will also look into robustly co-designed training methodologies, which target maximum cultural relevance, mechanisms for knowledge exchange, and methods for sustainable technology transfer with long-term viability. Next to the strong focus on applied research, where full scale housing units will be built, two PhD students at the EiABC under the guidance of Dr. Elias Yitbarek will work on soft impact factors such as health issues, socio-cultural frameworks, communication strategies and participation models in order to guarantee a long lasting anchoring of the project in rural regions of Ethiopia as well as building up curricula for the academic impact in schools and universities.

The ETH Zurich and the EiABC in Addis Ababa have a long history of academic collaboration. The SRDU research can be seen as the sister project of the Sustainable Urban Dwelling Unit: SUDU. The project, initiated in 2010 by Dirk E. Hebel, who was at that time the Scientific Director of EiABC, investigated the stock and flow model of building materials in Ethiopia and introduced new building techniques and material applications such as earth masonry vaulting together with Prof. Philippe Block and Lara Davis of ETH Zurich, in order to minimize the dependency of building material import in Ethiopia. The project got well know also in Ethiopia and beyond and set the tone for further investigations also in rural areas. With the funding of Arthur Waser Foundation, ETH and EiABC have the chance to further strengthen their research collaboration by understanding the build environment as a complex and open system, ranging from the urban territory to the neighborhood scale and with it the question of material application, considering economic, ecological, social and aesthetic values for a future urbanization of developing territories world wide.