Around the World in Five Houses (3)

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From freezing icy, to melting sandy environments, humans inhabit most of the terrestrial spots on Earth. The diversity of climatic conditions and naturally-available resources has allowed unique lifestyles to flourish across the world. One aspect of this human legacy is vernacular architecture; the common domestic architecture of a specific region. Vernacular architecture is best reflected in houses that are tailored to address the local community needs and depend on the available construction materials. Let us take a tour around the world to examine some examples of these seemingly simple, yet science‐based, houses.

African Abodes

Although vernacular architecture is a universal concept, Africa in particular is rich with numerous examples thanks to its diverse tribal culture. The Sidama people of Ethiopia are famous for their beautiful bamboo-woven houses known as tuguls. The tugul—known world-wide as the Ethiopian House—is a dome-shaped building with a small front porch shading the entrance. The building frame is made of locally available bamboo and covered with grass and ensete* leaves. Tuguls are specifically designed to protect their inhabitants during rainy seasons at the Sidama Zone. They have pointed tops and circular bodies that shed heavy rainfall away and prevent leaking.

In the north of the Cameroon reside the Musgum ethnic group, who have been building fascinating high mud huts for long decades. Their huts are mainly made of compressed sun-dried mud laid over a thatch of lashed reeds. Professor Ronald Rael of the University of California, Berkeley, described Musgum huts as an “ideal mathematical form” which can withstand the load of building with minimum use of material. Unfortunately, only few Musgums still construct these huts nowadays, as they are considered outdated.

The dwellings are based on simple, yet well-planned, geometric designs that are mostly of conical form; the walls are thicker at the base than at the summit, which keeps the building stable. The exterior face carries geometric patterns, which, in addition to their ornamental effect, provide a foothold for construction and maintenance workers, and contribute to the drainage of rain. Musgum huts can reach nine meters high, which keeps the interior cool in hot summer days; moreover, a circular opening at the top of the hut promotes the air circulation, and it can be closed during the rainy days. These openings are also used as escape exits in case of floods, which are quite common in the region.

Stay tuned for the end of our journey.


*The Ensete is an Ethiopian local flowering plant, also known as the Ethiopian banana. It is distinguished with large banana-like leaves with a good quality fiber used for general weaving purposes.

**Read "Around the World in Five Houses” 1, 2, and 4.

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