CTR-Project Background & Overview

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The cooperation between Bauhaus University of Weimar (BUW), Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EiABC) and University of Juba (UJ) aims at strengthening the praxis orientation (1:10 and 1:1 scale prototyping) and interdisciplinary composition of architecture education in Africa, as well as involving the private sector (new business models). By doing so, research and teaching portfolios, which reflect African reality, will be also strengthened in Germany.

The project in particular offers a unique framework to strengthen already established competencies (praxis orientation and interdisciplinary) of the Bauhaus University (BUW) as well as to build new capacities with regard to architecture in Africa and to integrate before mentioned Bauhaus qualities in African architecture education, and to create a functioning dissemination and up-scaling model.

  • Through this the BUW will achieve a better understanding of the African context and will equip itself with relevant research tools and methodologies, intercultural competencies and a well-functioning network.
  • By partnering with the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EiABC) – East Africa’s center of excellence in architecture – the BUW creates a winning partnership to strengthen its research, teaching and knowledge management competencies as well as its network in Africa on a long-term basis. 90 years of Bauhaus’ experience in these fields will strengthen these competencies and bring about new, student centered teaching methods, as well as strengthen the involvement of the private sector. Nevertheless, EiABC’s well-established network in the African research and development (R&D) scene offers the potential to disseminate and upscale the learning and best practices of the cooperation.
  • University of Juba (UJ) is a cornerstone for the development of the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan. In the coming years the university needs to increase its quality of teaching and research competencies in order to meet the challenge of increasing urban and rural populations. Low cost and sustainable construction technologies, as well as the skills and methods to teach them are incremental.

Why Build in Africa?

Africa is evidently the continent worst hit by the effects of climate change, population boom and rapid urbanisation (see sheet 1). Nevertheless, it is also the continent worst prepared to cope with these challenges.

Architecture and construction are key fields to establish sustainable urban and rural dwellings for the growing population. In order to raise socio-economic, educational and health standards on the continent, the construction sector should break away from outdated and inefficient technologies and the dependence on expensive foreign resources (cement, steel) and instead search to develop and implement adopted technology, affordable constructions and environment-friendly materials. However, Africa’s research and educational capacities are still not sufficient to successfully address and mitigate these challenges. Applied research on cost and resource efficient housing is meager, didactical know-how on how to transfer research into praxis is missing.

Meanwhile, the field of “green” or environmental technologies is rapidly gaining territory in Europe as well as in Africa (Ref. 1,2), opening up a range of new opportunities for cooperation. Paired with environmentally viable business models (ecopreneurship, sociopreneurship), environmental technologies are becoming central to Africa's spectrum of home grown innovation (Ref 3,4). Such green technology solutions and environmentally conscious businesses can only develop sensibly in an open community-based collaborative setting. Africa is in a dire need to innovate away from out-dated top-down investment and training concepts and to turn towards empowering its growing middle class to tackle the challenges it encounters in its own communities.

For these reasons, the thematic focus of this proposal is on the field of low-cost housing and affordable public buildings, through the introduction of new technologies, the adoption of local, affordable and eco-friendly constructions and materials and the development of locally viable business models that can ensure the later wide-scale adoption of the research results to be achieved.

Sheet 1 lists some key development indicators of Ethiopia that underpin the urgent need for new viable and scalable African solutions in the building-sector.


Why do Practical Research in Africa?

African higher education is up until now mainly focusing on the undergraduate level and, according to a UNESCO report (Ref. 4), research capacities are limited and there is a chronic lack of investment in facilities for research and teaching. Most of the current research is done in few research institutes that are delinked from universities. As relevant new knowledge is mainly generated through research and because state-of-the-art-teaching grows out of research, it is necessary to address these research deficiencies in Africa to facilitate development and transformation.

Another weakness of the research landscape is the lack of transfer of relevant research topics into higher education institutions as well as knowledge transfer from the higher institutions to SMEs. This is particularly evident when it comes to cross-border transfer of research questions from Africa to Europe – in this case, from Africa to German higher education and research institutions. Relevant research questions addressing African demands are not communicated to the scientific community – or if they are – they are communicated and tackled with decades of delay (Ref. 3,5). Funding for applied research remains a problem.

A close cycle of communication between German and African higher education and research institutions as well as between industries and academia will help build up a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in African countries – the latter addressing the issue of underemployment and unemployment of young graduates as well as that of scientists (reducing brain drain, re-attracting academic diaspora).

Why Teach through Experimental Building?

Higher education for architects and engineers in Africa is, up until now, based on theory only - practice-oriented education does not exist (Ref. 2). This negatively affects both the students’ understanding of the complexities of the field, their practical skills and their creativity and problem-solving abilities.

Research on the performance of various building components or even complete houses constitutes a significant and longstanding domain within architectural research as a whole. This can be achieved in a laboratory (modeling) or real environment setting (field work).

A major part of the architectural process depends on learning how specific architectural designs balance the internal and external constraints. A realized prototype is primarily used to explore and experiment in order to figure out new technologies, principles and constructions. The potential benefits stemming from such an opportunity to experiment with new technical and architectural concepts in real size, under real conditions, are incredible.

Architectural executable prototypes are real and physically built realizations to test and explore a system with clearly defined but open and not yet answered questions. They are systems under development to get answers to questions, which cannot be clearly answered through other research methods or abstract theories. They also serve to demonstrate the complexity of the finished project and to investigate different stakeholders’ concerns.

From the students’ perspective, an architectural prototype is primarily a learning and communication vehicle used to explore and experiment with alternative materials, styles, systems and patterns in order to balance these different architectural qualities.

Realized building-prototypes play an important role throughout the entire project. Even more, they physically represent the core and key insights of the project, which may otherwise be difficult to obtain before starting to build the real project.

From Research to Reality

Due to the challenges to Sub-Saharan African development described above, adequate, eco-friendly and low cost building materials and viable construction technologies for housing, validated through architectural prototypes, are crucial research questions - questions, which are so far not at all being appropriately tackled.

All this calls for a more integrated concept of academic teaching and research together with local and international industry. Stronger interaction within the essential “knowledge triangle” (education, research and innovation) can be promoted by joint research, research-based teaching and putting research outcomes into ‘practice’ (experimental, research based building of prototypes with innovative building materials).

If students are involved early on in applied research and experiential learning activities, if they start conceiving and testing business ideas related to the projects they are working on and if they interact early on with locally relevant business-stakeholders, they will better acquire the essential abilities to apply their new competences in their future work and will be better equipped to generate future business based on locally relevant and environmentally sensible technology.

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