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The Earth as an Affordable Housing Alternative: Ghana’s Mud House Design Competition

The Earth as an Affordable Housing Alternative

Ghana’s Mud House Design Competition

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1st Place entry by M.A.M.O.T.H

For years, the earth has long been the basic construction material for houses in rural Ghana. Although 98% of the houses in the Abetenim area of Ashanti province—typical of warm, humid climate conditions—are made of earth, stereotypes about this building type persist because of eroding which takes place from poor construction and water damage. This has resulted in a stigma associated with mud architecture and the local perception that mud architecture is only for the poor. Instead of earth, metal and cement block have become the material of choice—at a considerable expense.

In light of this problem, the Nka Foundation, a non-profit organization dealing with art and design in Africa, staged the Mud House Design Competition—to encourage designers, architects and builders to use their creativity to come up with innovative designs for modest, affordable homes that can be built locally. The focus of the design was to aim at creating a single family and semi-urban house type that would be a place to live, a place to rest, store modest belongings, and feel safe.

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University of Chicago North Campus Student Residence

University of Chicago North Campus Student Residence

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Winning entry by Studio Gang with Mortenson Construction—Image courtesy Studio Gang ©University of Chicago

Like many American universities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the University of Chicago viewed Gothic architecture as a recognizable symbol to suggest academic excellence in the tradition of Ivy League universities and Oxford. In this, Chicago was not alone, as other schools used a similar formula to imply a connection to a pre-existing academic tradition—Duke University and Butler University in the 1920s being prime examples. As time passed, and to accommodate Chicago’s reputation architecturally as a forward-looking community, the university gradually hired contemporary architects such as Eero Saarinen, Mies van der Rohe, Edward Larrabee Barnes, Walter Netsche and Harry Weese to add to the university’s built fabric. Beginning with the early 21st century, the look on the campus has been updated even more to reflect current trends with buildings by Cesar Pelli, Helmut Jahn, Rafael Viñoly, Joe Valerio, and most recently, the musum by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.

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ADD-ON ’13

ADD-ON ’13

Affordable Housing for Cape Cod

by William Morgan

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Winning entry by CxMxD

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The goal of the Add-on ’13 competition was to “seek design proposals for a freestanding, affordable, accessory dwelling unit on outer Cape Cod.” Specifically, the town of Wellfleet, Massachusetts has a bylaw that allows a second living unit–and even up to three extra units–on the lot of an existing home. At the moment, the fishing and resort village has a dozen such accessory dwellings. But the nobler aim of the Add-on competition was to “consider the role of affordable housing” in a non-urban context and to “re-envision the relationship between architecture, infrastructure, resources and the land.” Despite the seeming modesty of the program–800 square-foot, single bedroom units, to cost less than $150,000, Add-on ’13 was a significant contest.

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