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mudLIBRARY is a non-profit, sustainable building project that refers to the construction of a community library in the small village of Nsutem in southern Ghana. The library will be built during a three-month workshop with the help of local workers and students, and it will serve the community as well as the surrounding schools in the village. The main construction materials used are earth and wood. We want to focus on low-cost building techniques that are readily accessible and which are cheaper and more sustainable compared to mainstream construction methods that rely foremostly on cement. The mudLIBRARY project also brings together various players such as the Vienna University of Technology, international experts and the local community of Nsutem. These partnerships create an environment for intensive intercultural exchange, whereby all participants can learn and benefit from each other. The library building will include a reading room, a computer room, and a spaciously covered outdoor area that will provide a comfortable atmosphere for children and young people to gather and study.
How this project came to life?
In August 2018, the chief of Nsutem, a small town in southern Ghana, made an appeal to the public. In his appearance on Radio1 Ghana, he expressed his wish to construct a library in Nsutem, considering it paramount for the development of his community. His appeal was picked up by the local authorities and has resulted in the allocation of a piece of land that can be used to build the school and community library of Nsutem. The Chief’s appeal was also picked up by Sylvia Arthur, the co-founder of the local NGO Bookdrop Ghana. Bookdrop is an NGO based in Accra that aims to promote literacy in Ghana by improving the access to learning materials in Ghana. After having heard the chief on the radio, Sylvia decided to contact her friends from Hive Earth, which is a construction firm based in Accra. We have already worked with Hive Earth on our previous project mudCAFETERIA and we have been in contact with the owners Kwame and Joelle ever since. We both have expressed again and again the ambition to follow up on the mudCAFETERIA project and thus, when Sylvia contacted Joelle regarding the chief’s appeal, a great opportunity presented itself. That is, in a nutshell, how the non-profit project mudLIBRARY was born.
Where is the project is located?
Ghana is located in West Africa, sharing borders with Togo to the east, Ivory coast in the west and Burkino Faso and Mali along its northern borders. Our pilot-project mudCAFETERIA was built in the small town Sang, which is located in the Northern Region of Ghana. The mudLIBRARY project however is going to be built in the small village Nsutem, which is situated approx. 100 km north of Accra and roughly 150km southeast of the second biggest city in Ghana, Kumasi. Nsutem is part of the administrative region East.
The village has about 2000 inhabitants of which approximately 60% are 25 years old or younger. As in most rural areas in Ghana, the majority of the people are not able to read and write very well. Especially older people often haven’t received any education at all. Most people are subsistence farmers who just about earn enough to make ends meets. And although the number of people that live below the UN-poverty line (less that 2 $ a day) has steadily declined in the past decades in Ghana, in rural areas there are still about 25% of the people living in poverty. When we look at the housing situation in Nsutem, most of the dwellings are very puristic. Most houses are not much more than simple earth structures, clearly demonstrating the poor economic conditions of the villagers. The houses are small and mostly very warm, and they often lack the most basic amenities such as a toilet or a bathroom. It is therefore that most activities take place outside (cooking for example) under the confines of a porch or a big tree.
The construction site
The building site is located in the middle of Nsutem, directly surrounded by some of the existing schools in the village. It is a very central location and easily visible from all directions. The location is therefore ideal to serve as a meeting place for the whole community. In January 2020 we have visited Nsutem to get an overview of the schools, the topography and the local construction methods. We have also talked with locals, the council of elders and our partner organisations to get a better idea of the spatial program for the library. After these discussions, we quickly realized that the library would need to include more than a just a reading room and some bookshelves.
The library design
The library will include a reading rooms, computer workstations, a conference room and a generous outdoor space. A photovoltaic system will provide the building with enough electricity for lighting, operating some computers, as well as charging smartphones. During public events, the building can also be used to provide space for the community to come together. It is intended to become a place of community exchange where everyone feels welcome. A modern design, comfortable furniture and open outdoor spaces should motivate everyone to stay there, read and socialize. A culturally relevant range of books should inspire even the youngest to read, so that books and education become an integral part of their lives from the very beginning. The reading room can also be used as a meeting room and can be added to the outdoor area. The local NGO Bookdrop Ghana will take care of furnishing the library with books and provide organizational input regarding its management. They are already working together with the community of Nsutem for over a year now and different projects and workshops already took place. Bookdrop has opened a ‘starter library’ that was stocked with a small selection of books and already served to hold some workshops. Bookdrop has also initiated a small project to interview elders in the community and record their stories. These stories are to be collected and archived in the library and serve as an historic record of the community.
Earth is still a common building material in that region. Yet, new buildings are mostly made of cement blocks, not at least because this method of construction is socially more respected. As a result, the traditional earthen building method is in danger of being lost. In Addition, many of these new buildings cannot be completed because cement is very expensive and the costs of construction often simply cannot be financed. Earth, on the other hand, is available free of charge on every building site, regulates the indoor climate, and is completely recyclable.
The project was born in 2018 with the appeal of the chief of Nsutem. However, until we as ArchiFair joined the project, about a year passed. In January 2020, we travelled to Ghana to meet everyone involved and prepare everything to start the construction work in summer 2020. Unfortunately the corona pandemic has forced us to postpone the whole project and we of course keep on following the development closely. But as vaccinations are slowly getting up to speed we feel confident we will be able to fly to Ghana this summer and build the mudLIBRARY.
The project partners
ArchiFair: Project management and organization, financing and execution of the construction
Team Hive: Supporting the ArchiFair-team in Nsutem (supervising the construction) and organizer of an Earth Building-workshop for the volunteers
The community of Nsutem: Supporting the ArchiFair-team during their stay in Nsutem
Richard Oppong: Local coordinator and primary contact person for the ArchiFair-team in Nsutem
Bookdrop Ghana: Furnishing the library with books and provide organizational input regarding the management of the library
Technical University Vienna: Technical input and organizational assistance