A cafeteria for a new vocational school in Sang, northern territory, Ghana

The mudCAFETERIA is a construction project in the village of Sang, Ghana. In close cooperation with the local community, the NKA Foundation, the Accra-based construction company Hive Earth and many volunteers, we have constructed a small building that will serve as a cafeteria for the new vocational school in Sang.

Key Facts:

Built area: 200m2
Indoor area: 60m2
4th Earth Architectural Competition: hand-in June 2016
Financing and workshop organisation: start October 2016
Construction plans: start April 2017
Construction start: 9th of July 2017
Construction end: 1st of October 2017
Building cost:  19.000,- €




NKA Foundation Ghana


Sang, Northern Territory, Ghana

What have we built?

During the summer of 2017 we have built three ‘modules’ of our cafeteria design; a kitchen, a multi-functional room and a large outdoor seating area. The building is set in a central position of the new vocational school campus and it will serve as the social meeting place for students, teachers and the community. The cafeteria offers various kinds of spaces for socializing, some of them more public and some more private. The cantilevered roof, the niches between the walls/columns and the large outdoor area offer a lot of shaded area to sit down and eat or drink something, or to study. We have positioned the cafeteria in such a way that it optimally captures the stunning views of the surroundings. From the back veranda and through the spacious outdoor-area, the building offers beautiful vistas of the valley below.

Why Sang?

The building site is located in the rural community of Sang, in the relatively sparsely populated north of Ghana, which has hardly been able to benefit from the country’s economic upswing in recent years. This region has very little infrastructure and is struggling with the exodus of young people who, mostly without education, seek their fortune in the larger cities or abroad. Now, a vocational training school is being built in Sang to offer young people without school-leaving qualifications the opportunity to learn a trade. The mudCAFETERIA will not only be the dining hall, but also the centre of the school and of social exchange – not only for the students. If necessary, the building will also be used by the community for smaller events.

The mudCAFETERIA – a modular design

Our design is based on a modular system that can be repeated continuously. The modules are independent structures that allow for a gradual expansion of the building. This would allow the building to grow as the number of students increases without interfering with the existing structures. The design was standardised to the extent that the rammed earth walls could be erected with only 2 different formwork systems. The centre distances are always the same, so that the same steel trusses could also be manufactured for all building structures. Only through this modular, standardised construction method was it possible to complete this project in such a short time with a very small budget and untrained workers.

The building comprises 3 structures: a kitchen, a multi-purpose room and a large covered outdoor area. Different zones were created around the building, from large open to more private retreat areas. The wide cantilevered roof, the seating niches between the supporting elements, as well as the generous area between the two enclosed structures, offer many shaded areas to eat, exchange ideas or retreat. On the side facing the forecourt, the covered outdoor area, “the veranda”, is enclosed by a raised plinth zone. This combination of seating and plant element creates retreat niches. Blinds hang between the roof end and the seating elements for better shading and zoning. They were made from the remaining construction timber and locally produced ropes. The remaining timber was also recycled for all other furniture.

The large structure houses the multi-purpose room, which will also be used as a classroom for the time being. In the smaller room there is a counter with a hatch to the middle structure. The building has indoor and outdoor lighting and sockets, which is by no means standard in Sang.

The cooking area is outside, behind the building, as is usual in Sang. In this region, cooking is usually done with charcoal. With the help of Ecobricks, we built a cooking element with 2 traditional “hot plates” and a stove. Hopefully, the storage mass created in this way can curb the need for charcoal somewhat. Rainwater from the roofs is collected in a 1400 litre water tank. Two washbasins connected to it supply the MUDcafeteria with water and ensure improved hygienic conditions.

A pleasant indoor climate through sustainable materials and good planning

With constantly hot temperatures during the day, it is not easy to keep a building in Sang cool, especially if you do not have modern technical means at your disposal. To create a pleasant indoor climate, we planned the building using a “two-shell principle”. The outer, roofed area enclosing the building protects the inner area from rain and direct sunlight. The outer walls of 45cm thick rammed earth (the longer wall sections are without cement!) act as heat buffers, stabilising the indoor climate during the day. The clay stores heat, regulates moisture and insulates sound. It also binds pollutants from the air and is fire-resistant. Through the connecting “wind/light module”, the building is naturally ventilated, in accordance with old building traditions, and protected from overheating by indirect daylight. To enhance the effect of natural cooling, the main axes of the cafeteria are aligned at a right angle to the prevailing prevailing wind direction. The roof was made of corrugated metal sheets, as is customary in these regions because of the heavy rainfall. To reduce noise during the rainy season and to avoid overheating, we suspended locally made straw mats as a ventilated soffit. After completion of the building, we were surprised ourselves how well the concept works. The interiors remained pleasantly cool even on the hottest days.

Building in Ghana – the big challenges

the construction in rural Ghana was a great adventure for us. Almost every day we were confronted with new challenges and the management and organisation of the project was accordingly extremely demanding. The cultural differences between Europe and Ghana are huge, and since few people speak English well, it was often not easy to explain our ideas and give clear instructions. Apart from the language barrier, it is generally difficult to discuss technical solutions when dealing with inexperienced construction workers. Several staff members of the NKA Foundation (our local partner organisation) spoke relatively good English, but had little to no experience with construction work.

We had one local carpenter who spoke good English, but most of our team consisted of unskilled workers who barely understood the English language. And although they were motivated and hardworking, they lacked specific construction experience or professional skills, which made it difficult for us to outsource tasks without constant supervision. To some extent, this was also true for the 31 volunteer students who (alternately) stayed with us in Sang and helped us on the construction site. Only a few of the students had experience of working on a construction site and for many of them it was probably their first time ever on a construction site. However, a few times we got help from construction professionals. For example, specialists from Accra (Hive Earth) helped us with the first rammed earth walls. But also a carpentry team from Tamale (for the doors and windows) and a mason from Sang (plastering and finishing the floor) supported us well. Furthermore, the local welder was an important contractor who took care of all the roof trusses and all kinds of other small (repair) tasks. However, despite the practical skills these skilled workers brought, it was a challenge to communicate the tasks as most of them cannot read building plans. This led to several mistakes, because instead of following our instructions and plans, decisions were made based on personal assessments.

One of our overall project goals was to build a sustainable and cost-effective structure. We deliberately decided against transporting tools and materials from Austria, as it makes more sense to use locally available materials to support the local economy. Although we had to order some parts from Accra (formwork beams and plywood), we bought all other materials and tools either in Sang or in Tamale (1.5 hours away by car and the third largest city in Ghana with about 800,000 inhabitants). This was not an easy task as there is no general shop for building tools and materials in the region. In Tamale, there are many small shops spread all over the city, each selling only a few materials or tools. So we had to scour the whole town several times to find what we needed, which took a lot of time. Fortunately, our main contact lived at the NKA in Tamale, so we were able to get there after some time. Fortunately, our main contact from NKA lived in Tamale, so after some time we decided to let him get most of the things and send them to us. This was not without (communication) difficulties, but it saved us the frequent trips to Tamale and allowed us to concentrate fully on the construction work on site.

Another complicating factor when building in rural Ghana is that many things that are done by machine in Europe are still done by hand here. When making concrete, for example, we had to mix the different materials with shovels on the ground. This is very intensive and hard work, and you can only make small quantities at a time. So when you pour a foundation, you have to do it in many small sections, which makes it difficult to control the total height. Ramming the earth walls also had to be done by hand instead of using a mechanical “rammer”. Although this was probably one of the more exciting processes in our workshop, it also meant a lot of blood, sweat and tears to build a section of wall. We did find some electric tools such as an electric saw and an electric drill, but in Tamale you have to pay a high price for quality. Fortunately, we had brought some small tools (e.g. a spirit level) with us, which made some tasks a little easier. So even if you don’t ship a container of tools, we strongly recommend bringing certain “high-tech” tools with you, as it is not easy to find quality tools in such rural areas.

Although we have considered many different solutions and approaches during the building process, in the end we stayed very close to our original design (see pictures below). Considering all the challenges we had to face, including many health issues, we are very happy with the outcome and are excited to finally be able to present the final result.

Once again, we would like to thank all our sponsors and donors who made all this possible.


The Team

The Project Leaders

Hive Earth