Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

This site uses cookies. By using our services, you agree to our cookie use.
Learn more here.

Competition: Prototype housing for South-Saharan Africa

An open international ideas competition has been announced to design residential prototypes for South-Saharan Africa (Deadline: 31 May)

The contest, organised by Community Planning & Design Initiative Africa (CPDI Africa), seeks innovative and contextual concepts for new housing in communities across the region.

It aims to harness local materials and modular ‘kit-of-parts’ construction to deliver a sustainable and practical housing solution for people living and working in rural and developing areas of Africa.

Nakuru, Kenya

Nakuru, Kenya

Hellen’s House by Orkidstudio

The brief says: ‘Imagine the transformation of the African landscape into sprawling metropolises filled with architectural masterpieces celebrating new interpretations of traditional design elements, portrayed with all the comfort of modern innovations and technique.

‘This cultural, research-orientated, design and build competition aims to create successful neighbourhoods and communities on the African continent, using modern architecture that is both aesthetic and sustainable.’

The biennial CPDI Africa design challenge was established by Nmadili Okwumabua of design consultancy Southern Sahara USA in 2013.

The consultancy was set up in 1995 to research traditional African design elements such as floor plans, materials, climate adaptability, costs, finishing and furniture, and to develop new contextual architectural solutions.

Winners of the 2015 CPDI Africa competition included a house inspired by the River Omo in Ethiopia by Russian architect Roman Goshkov and ‘Desert Wave’ inspired by northern Nigeria’s traditional architecture (pictured) by BOBObureau in Ukraine.

CPDI Africa

CPDI Africa

Desert Wave by BOBObureau

The CPDI Africa programme aims to promote research and collaboration between international design teams and local communities, and to improve design codes and best practice in urban design across South-Saharan Africa.

Submissions will feature in an Art of Modern African Architecture travelling exhibition and can include architectural photography, artist renderings, documentary film and inspirational collage.

Participating teams may feature artists, architects and engineers, but must have no more than three members with one person named as the lead. Three winning teams will receive cash prizes while a further 22 will receive honourable mentions.

The competition will be judged by a nine-strong jury led by Okwumabua and featuring a mixture of African and American architecture professors. The full competition brief will be available from 1 January.

How to apply


The deadline for submissions is 31 May 2017


Early Bird Registration until 31 December: $45 USD
Regular Registration from 1 January to 31 May: $65 USD

Contact details

CPDI Africa
A Southern Sahara Initiative
2690 Cobb Parkway
Suite A5-221
Smyrna, Georgia, 30080

Tel: 678-650-9145 (USA) +234 817-516-0497 (NG)

Email: , ,

Visit the competition website for more information

Hellen’s House case study: Q&A with James Mitchell

The director of Orkidstudio discusses lessons learned designing a £4,200 family home in Nakuru, Kenya

How did your Hellen’s House project harness traditional methods and local materials to deliver low-cost housing?

Hellen’s House was born out of our previous work in Nakuru, which used earth-bag construction as a means to both reduce costs and engage a broader spectrum of the local community. As it is a relatively easy technique to master, we were able to include less experienced members of the community, both men and women, in the build process. There was no particular intent to refer to vernacular earthen structures, however, we do believe that earth offers one of the best options as a building material suited to tropical climates and as an affordable option in low-income regions. By opting for a more modern incarnation in earth bags, we found we were able to bypass negative preconceptions of earth building, instead transforming this most basic of materials into something valuable and credible.

Nakuru, Kenya

Nakuru, Kenya

Hellen’s House by Orkidstudio

Why are methods such as these crucial to delivering culturally and environmentally sustainable architecture for the continent?

Many regions of sub-Saharan Africa lack a clear architectural identity. There is, however, an architectural language; often borrowed and poorly considered. Rural regions have adopted the tin roof atop brick or stone walls, while in urban areas there is more to see, from colonial architectures to ‘modern’ forms copied directly from China or Western powers. In so many cases these buildings fail to consider their environmental, cultural or economic contexts. The reasons for this are numerous and complex, including poor governance and policy-making within design and construction sectors, and a lack of trained professionals.

We do not believe that earth is the building material around which to shape the continent’s entire future growth, but simply that there must be a conscious effort to develop architectural languages and identify materials that respond and are more appropriate to each place within this diverse and varied continent.

Nakuru, Kenya

Nakuru, Kenya

Hellen’s House by Orkidstudio

What advice would you have for designers seeking to establish prototype housing for Africa?

Like anywhere, Africa is intricately diverse. Prototype housing must first and foremost start with the local and the specific. Hellen’s House emerged out of one woman’s needs. Her house may not suit everyone, but there are qualities and aspects of it that can be adapted to produce a broader housing typology.

Nakuru, Kenya

Nakuru, Kenya

Hellen’s House by Orkidstudio