Association la Voute Nubienne (AVN)

AVN's mission is to improve housing conditions through an appropriate architecture, as soon as possible, for as many people as possible. In sub-Saharan Africa, the struggle to obtain decent housing plunges millions of families into a vicious circle of poverty. AVN offers a solution to this problem, based on three integrated concepts: A Roof + A Skill + A Market AVN organises the training and support of local Nubian Vault (NV) builders and entrepreneurs to promote this solution on a large-scale, with a view to developing a self-sustaining market in NV construction. As a result, families can acquire affordable, sustainable, and decent housing, at the same time improving their economic cond...
Jul 14, 2010

The Organic Approach

We arrived in Boromo and were picked up by Seri, the Co-Founder of the Association la Voute Nubienne (AVN), and were given our first taste what the project does when we arrived at our hotel. The hotel, owned by Seri, was created as practice buildings when Association la Voute Nubienne was working with its first group of master masons. We were later taken to see a school, church, and house, which were built in a nearby community.

The organization takes a very organic approach. They have several cultural coordinators whose job it is go into villages and work with the communities to sensitize citizens to the benefits of the Nubian style houses with earthen roofs, which include minimizing deforestation for wood roofs, saving money from importing tin roofs, and the temperature control Nubian roofs provide. After some time, if at least 5 families show interest in having a house constructed, a team of five masons will be assembled. The masons are ranked by skill level, four being a master mason. There are always two, level-one masons on the team and they are people from the village where the house is being constructed whom are interested in learning the trade. Over time they work their way up the ranking, themselves becoming master masons and potentially starting work in a new village.

Irene, the Assistant Director of AVN, told us that the end goal is for there to no longer be a need for AVN, because as more people realize the benefits of these houses and demand grows, the number of masons will be expanding as well. This model is not only meant to spread more sustainable houses, but also create jobs for those interested in learning masonry. The organization has taken a sustainable approach to introducing a new style of superior architecture to help protect the environment and improve lives of citizens of Burkina Faso.

Sarah and four other In-the-Field Travelers visited more than 30 GlobalGiving projects in Mali, Togo, Burkina Faso, and Ghana. Follow their adventures at

Mar 3, 2010

Zambia Program gets off to a good start

Sister Grace
Sister Grace

I mentioned in my last Update in December that, through AVN-Belgium, we have launched a program in Zambia, in collaboration with the Belgian NGO, Abantu-Zambia. The program centres around the construction of VN houses in a cluster of sixteen villages in the Chibombo District, north of the capital, Lusaka.

This has now got off to a really good start. A local coordinator, Sister Grace (see photo) has volunteered to organise the program in the field; 65 potential clients for VN houses, and 18 potential VN masons, from nine villages, have been identified.

The first two villagers in the program, Christoper Phiri and Jaspan Moobela (see photo) arrived in Boromo, Burkina Faso, in mid-December, for a 5-month apprenticeship in vault construction. This is the first time they have been away from home, and it was no easy matter arranging passports, visas, and travel (bus to Lusaka, a plane to Addis Ababa, another plane to Ouagadougou, via Lomé, and a 3 hour bus journey to Boromo - altogether this took some 30 hours!).

They are learning fast, and will be returning to Zambia in May, accompanied by two Burkinabé master masons, to start a training and construction program in their villages.

By good fortune, Austin Hawkins, a young American on a J.Watson Fellowship studying earth architecture, has been spending a 10-week attachment to AVN in Boromo : Austin speaks excellent French, so he has been able to help interpret for Christopher and Jaspan, and he has also translated the VN masons' manuals into English for them. A real cultural mix, and for sure another positive aspect of the AVN adventure! You can see a video interview with Austin on our You Tube channel.

Village houses in Zambia are traditionally made of adobe walls with a conical grass thatch roof on timber beams (see photo); although these seem very picturesque, they have many drawbacks (the roofs are often infested with insects and termites, they have to be replaced every 2-3 years, they often catch fire, and it is the women in the family who are responsible for the drudgery of their maintenance). And, in any case, bush timber and grass is getting increasingly scarce, so many families have to resort to expensive, badly insulated, sheet metal and corrugated iron roofs, which only last a maximum of ten years anyway.

So, one can understand why so many villagers in the program area are keen to have VN houses with solid, safe, roofs which will keep their houses cool during the day, and cosy at night.

AVN-Belgium is raising funds to support this program: any contributions you might care to make will go towards this fund.

Thanking you once more for your support, Tony Kaye

Jaspan & Christopher arriving in Boromo
Jaspan & Christopher arriving in Boromo
Zambian village house
Zambian village house


Dec 9, 2009

Growing international recognition

A lot has happened at AVN since my last Update – it’s difficult to know where to start....

For sure, the international recognition for our work is growing by leaps and bounds:

(1) We were one of eleven “...outstanding finalists” for this year’s World Habitat Awards.

(2) The bid which we submitted to the World Bank’s Development Marketplace Competition on ‘Adaptation to Climate Change ‘ (DM2009) was one of the 26 projects which received funding at the Marketplace event in Washington DC this November (note that there were over 1700 submissions to this competition, and AVN’s was one of the 100 short-listed and invited to Washington); the prize funds will be used to match a similar grant from the French Ensemble Foundation, to trial our new strategy for scaling up the apprenticeship and construction Program (DPPV: Deployment of the Program from a Pilot Village). (3) AVN’s structure is being reinforced with the addition of a new offshoot: AVN-Belgium, which is now formally established there as a ‘not for profit’ NGO.

(4) AVN-Belgium’s first program, in collaboration with our team in Burkina Faso and with Abantu-Zambia, is scheduled over three years, and involves training of apprentices from Zambia in the VN technique in Burkina Faso, and the deployment of a team of VN masons from Burkina Faso to Zambia for 5 months each year, during the Zambian dry season (which, fortuitously, coincides with the rainy season in Burkina Faso); during the first three years of this program, it is planned to build about 70 houses in the construction zone of 6 villages, and to train 16 VN masons and 32 apprentices.

The other bit of good news is that we have been formally recognised by Global Giving as being a ‘green’ program. Soon, we hope to be able to provide accurate data on the carbon savings associated with the VN technique (as opposed to the alternatives of traditional Sahelian timber-based roofing, and ‘modern’ methods using concrete blocks, sawn timber joists, and sheet metal roofing). The assessment of the relative carbon footprint of VN housing is being carried out by for us pro bono by by staff in the London office of Environmental Resources Management (ERM), leading global experts in the field of environmental impact assessment.



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