African vernacular architecture documentation

Vernacular architecture in many African countries is disappearing. I want to document the vernacular architecture of Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland.
Jon Twingi
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Email Verified
Beaufort, South Carolina
United States
1 Team Member


My name is Jon, a registered architect with a passion for African vernacular architecture. Vernacular architecture is a component of a country's culture and in many African countries,  it is disappearing... abandoned for modern materials and techniques. My goal is to  document the vernacular architecture of Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland and place this information on a web page so it is available free to everyone.

African vernacular architecture is also called traditional architecture or indigenous architecture. It's architecture is constructed of materials native to a particular area.

Africa is a large continent and the availability of local materials varies greatly. That means the architecture varies greatly as well.

Interested in seeing some images of the variety and beauty of African vernacular architecture?

I  have the largest collection on Pintrest.

Click here to view.


    African vernacular architecture has existed for centuries; it's a system that has worked and still does. But it's not understood and definitely has very little presence on-line. My campaign is to change that.

    Construction in Africa is seasonal; there is no building in the rainy season. This season varies slightly between countries. For Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland this season is primarily August, September and October.  If my project is not launched before then,  another full year will go by without any documentation.

    There is a myth,  or a perception about African vernacular architecture, especially when compared to Western architecture.

    Western materials and techniques are considered to be permanent, correct, civilized, a symbol of wealth and most importantly... desired.

    Vernacular materials and techniques, on the other hand, are viewed as makeshift, temporary,  for the poor, part of the past... and not desired.

    People build what they believe in and the reality is that Africans do not believe in vernacular architecture.

    Vernacular materials are arguably the most sustainable materials available. Mud is literally taken from the earth where the structure is built. The thermal properties of adobe construction have a proven record. Thatch is grown seasonally and can be grown near site. Thatch is used in European cultures, supporting snow loads with incredible thermal characteristics. How metal panels can be considered  "sustainable" is beyond me! Bamboo, on the other hand, is sustainable with strength and rigidity as well and  has a very fast growing cycle.

    Architecture is a major element of a country's culture.  Architecture  is just as important as language, music, art, sports or religion. Why is it not critical to document this element before it is gone?

    In exchange for your support, I have some exciting and unique perks I think you will like:

    If I exceed my funding goal, that means more funds for car rental and fuel... more roads to travel and more documentation. There's plenty of areas to document.

    Because of flex funding...  if I do not reach my intended goal, It will  still be possible to document two countries or even just one. On the positive side... one country is better than none!

    The funding covers what is needed to make this project a success... airfares, car rental, fuel, per day expenses for myself, a fellow researcher and driver, equipment (camera, computer, phone), the cool perks I am offering,  web pages construction,  development of an app and Indie GoGo fees.  Whew... that's a lot!

    This project requires development of a plan, establishing a budget, procuring funding, dealing with logistics,  conducting the research, organizing and analyzing the data and finally placing this information on a web page.

    I have done just that !!!  I have a proven track record.

    When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia I traveled the entire country and documented all of the existing vernacular architecture. The result of this research is my web page.

    Click here to visit

    I also have been blogging for well over a year on African vernacular architecture.
    Click here to check out my blogs.

    All of my social media connections can be found organized at
    www.african vernacular

    I also created a story about African vernacular architecture.  This presentation is called a "Prezi" and can be found at:

    My Prezi

    When I documented Zambia  all I had was a camera. That was more than 15 years ago. Today, many Africans have smart phones as well as volunteers, people working for government agencies, NGO's and others. These people have contact with villages where the structures are.

    An app will allow these people to take pictures of vernacular structures which can then be sent to the Cloud. Instead of a researcher traveling to every African country for documentation,  documentation can come to the researcher.

    This research trip will be the field test for the app.

    The end of this campaign and project is that these pictures, sketches and analysis are placed on a web site, available to everyone.  The following is the web page I have set up for Malawi vernacular architecture. There are no pictures on the site as yet... because we have not done the research as yet. Help me fill it up with pictures.

      There are always risks and challenges in conducting projects in Africa. That being said... from my four years of being a volunteer..  when a bad experience happened and things seemed to become worse.. and then just inconceivable.. it just becomes a better story to tell later! And everything worked out well... half full I say.

      Besides donating (remember.. you can donate without asking for a perk) you could help immensely by helping spread word of my project.  You can be part of preserving a piece of culture!!

      Find This Campaign On
      raised by 54 people in 1 month
      31% funded
      No time left
      $40,000 USD goal
      Flexible Funding This campaign has ended and will receive all funds raised.
      Campaign Closed
      This campaign ended on August 12, 2014
      Select a Perk
      • $10USD

        I will send you a picture of a vernacular structure from my field research. This picture will be a one of a kind just for you.

        1 claimed
      • $20USD

        I will send you a personal email from the field with a big thank you plus an update on how the project is going.

        3 claimed
      • $30USD

        Who doesn't enjoy finding a personal note in their mailbox? I bet you will be the only one on your block receiving a hello and project update from Africa.

        6 claimed
      • $75USD

        14 stunning photos of African vernacular architecture with dates noted of important cultural events in the countries that I document.

        1 claimed
      • $125USD
        E book

        I will create an E book that contains maps, sketches, pictures and analysis of this data. This data will be presented in a much different fashion then the web page.

        5 claimed
      • $200USD

        A personal 9" x 12" watercolor of a vernacular structure, suitable for framing.

        2 claimed
      • $400USD

        I will send you a beautiful batik (roughly 40" x 60") created by an African artist. I will have it personally created to include vernacular structures.

        0 claimed
      • $600USD
        Photo and wood frame

        I will send you a 8-1/2" x 11" black and white photograph of a vernacular structure with a wood frame that is carved by an African artist (glass not included).

        0 claimed
      • $1,000USD

        You truly appreciate African vernacular architecture. I will profile you on the web page. Also the Ebook will be printed and sent along with a chess set (designed by you) carved by an African artist. From the field I will give you constant updates through Skype, email, letters and postcards.

        0 claimed
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