2012 - 2015 | Concept-Test-Realization | 1:1 1:10 1:∞

The urban population of Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to grow by almost 70% by 2025. This heavy urbanization naturally evolves a boom in the construction sector. Obviously the current planning methods in building techniques, soft and hard infrastructures and economic cycles are not sufficient enough to lay strong foundations for a sustainable urban and social development. Within a strong academic environment a trilogy of 1:1 prototypal housing units has been fulfilled in the heart of hyper-urbanization: Ethiopia´s capital Addis Ababa.

In response to this situation, the development of fundamentally new concepts is the main duty for creating sufficient living spaces. The concepts must be socially robust, open and flexible in their spatial structure and usage. The introduction of innovative building techniques and the lowest maintenance requirement possible is a central point that planners have to focus on. Developing countries have to find their own modes of urbanization rather than relying on outdated or inappropriate models from the so-called ‘developed world’. It must re-invent its indigenous building methods, construction technologies, and material use.

As an academic collaboration between EiABC (Ethiopian Institute of Architecture Building Construction and City Development), Bauhaus-Universität Weimar and ETH Zürich, three different prototypical buildings were planned, built and tested as a potential model for housing in Africa: SECU, SICU & MACU. Each of the houses focuses on a possibly different core strategy:

3 Housing Prototypes:

2012 SECU the introduction of a new building material and corresponding working methods
2013 SICU the use of highly-prefabricated building elements to achieve short construction times
2014 MACU the provocative use of a CNC-driven production techniques using parametric planning systems


Concept-Test-Realization (CTR) is a collaborative academic and research project aimed at strengthening the praxis orientation and interdisciplinary composition of architecture education in Africa. The project runs over three years (2012-2014). It is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) through the "Welcome to Africa" program by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).


2012: SECU Sustainable Emerging City Unit.

The Sustainable Emerging City Unit is a housing solution and a constructional innovation which is erected entirely out of panels made of compressed straw. The building elements – walls, slabs and roof – are made of single or double layered compressed straw panels (6 or 12 cm thickness), joined by threaded rods and casein-based glue. A secondary structural system is not required. It is calculated to be earthquake resistant for two-story buildings. The individual panels are prefabricated elements. The straw is compressed under heat and achieve material properties comparable to hard wood. The significant roof overhang and green screen of climbing plants give the unit its own character and protect the straw panels from rainwater.

The floor plan layout provides a balance between open and enclosed spaces to provide the user with maximum freedom of use with 35m² on each floor and an integrated, water-resistant sanitation unit. The design is based on standardized modules which can be combined to various design permutations and guarantees a simple implementation process.

As an alternative to the standard mass housing, this represents a possible solution for fast-growing urban agglomerations and provides extra business for the farming sector near emerging cities. The prototype was built in Addis Ababa in 2012. A new model compound of five units is currently (2015) under construction in Kigali (Rwanda).

Architects and implementation: Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, institute of experimental architecture (ifex) in collaboration with EiABC, Addis Ababa University

Project head: Prof. Dr. Ing. Dirk Donath

Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Year of construction: 2012

Construction time: Three months

Area: 96.00 m²

Material: Highly compressed straw panels, rubber, metal sheets, compressed wood

Budget: 8,500 USD (includes sanitation, all finished first floors)

Credits: strawtec plc Germany, SIKA waterproofing materials plc Addis Ababa Ethiopia, AEE Dawit Kebede Addis Ababa

More info here:


2013: SICU Sustainable Incremental City Unit.

The Sustainable Incremental Construction Unit is a housing solution made entirely of prefabricated elements. The solution uses locally available and locally produced building elements. It is provided as a semi-finished construction that the homeowners then complete themselves. Simple building elements and a clear construction principle using prefabricated concrete elements (foundation and columns) are combined with lightweight timber frames and readymade wall panels with integrated windows and doors.

It addresses the needs for participatory design through a process-oriented building typology. In the current implementation, with its accompanying business model and level of dissemination, it is possible to self-build the basic housing unit in less than two weeks using a mixture of local small businesses and participation from the local community. Almost 90% of the building components have been specifically designed and sorted for convenient development by micro, small-scale and medium-sized business enterprises.
Given that imported building materials, expensive customized processes and inflexible cast-in-situ systems currently predominate in the building sector, this shift presents a cost-efficient and faster alternative for the construction sector. All prefabricated building elements come in standard dimensions according to a modular system.

The modular design concept makes it possible to use for very dense and small plots and it can be used in combination to achieve economies of scale and create larger, flexible aggregate structures that fit into the surrounding urban structure.

Careful and intensive preparation work preceded the processing and manufacturing of the elements to ensure that non-professionals can undertake construction and assembly using well-known connection techniques and that components match standard dimensions.
A detailed building information model (BIM) and a process model guarantees a consistent quality of production, predictable production costs, and programmable time schedules. Construction manuals, and business and financial investment plans are derived directly from the digital project model. All plans, details and manuals are made available at the SICU Open Source platform (http://icebauhaus.sudile.com/index.php/BUILD_YOUR_OWN_SICU).

Architects and implementation: Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, institute of experimental architecture (ifex) in collaboration with EiABC, Addis Ababa University

Project head: Prof.Dr.Ing. Dirk Donath

Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Year of construction: 2013/2014 (2 units)

Construction time: Two weeks

Area: 86.00 m²

Extension space: 30.00 m²

Material: Pre-fab elements out of concrete foundations and column, Eucalyptus rips with plywood sheets, Eucalyptus frame, prefabricated, highly compressed straw panels, Light timber frames and claddings (prefab), rubber, metal sheets, compressed wood

Budget: 7,000 USD (first floor finished, ground floor incremental)

Credits: strawtec plc Germany, SIKA waterproofing materials plc Addis Ababa Ethiopia, AEE Dawit Kebede Addis Ababa

More info here:


2014: MACU Mobile Automated Contemporary Unit


The Mobile Automated Construction Unit – is the first known showcase for state of the art technology and production methods for flexible, individual and rapidly-implemented building constructions in Africa. It is a forward-looking, technological alternative to existing know-how in the building industry and as such intends to stimulate thinking in new directions. The MACU prototype is a multi-purpose and flexible functional building unit which is produced out of high-end prefabricated elements. These sheets are customizable using CNC machines.

The principle is suitable for individual functional units such as schools, kindergartens, offices, temporary houses, remote shelters as well as items in urban space such information kiosks, bus stops, security post units, or for shaded canopies for public recreation. Assembly and disassembly is very straightforward. The design is based on a parametrized computer model that provides an instruction set for a computer-controlled milling machine which produces the individual building parts. The only material used is local pre-processed eucalyptus board with a thickness of 18mm. Instead of plywood, other CNC processable material could also be used. The individual parts are assembled in relation to each other and fixed with connectors made of CNC-processed material (wedges, clamps, brackets, extenders).

The MACU demonstrates and proves the potential and impact of modern digital parameterized models, and the potential of modern planning methods, pre-processed materials and state of the art customised fabrication technology. All steps and production were undertaken in Africa (Ethiopia) from local material.

The technology used is not proposed as a direct alternative to existing methods in the housing program for developing countries, and does not intend to replace nor question it, but simply to augment the possibilities. Its flexibility makes it possible to provide various functions to users. The usable space between the spacing of the column-grid ranges from 1.2 m to 3.8 m, with a maximum uninterrupted bay size of 3.8 × 3.8 m = 14.5 m² usable space. The column grid can be extended in both directions.

The structural system consists of prefabricated lightweight concrete pad footings into which columns are inserted that in turn are fixed to a ridge grid-waffle slab system. The enclosure as well as the partitioning walls are non-loadbearing and can be placed in the grid of the slab (800 × 800 mm). Various types of façades have been developed and solid walls (single or double sheets) or walls with openings for ventilation or even windows and doors can be placed individually. The roof is designed as a removable membrane sheet which functions as a rain cover on the roof. Made of 1 mm thick PE, it is fixed over the projecting flat roof construction and secured from below.

Credits: Heng Sen Lumber Manufacture PLC Addis Ababa Ethiopia, CNC workshop by Thomas Haile Addis Ababa Ethiopia, AEE Dawit Kebede Addis Ababa Ethiopia

Architects and implementation: Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, institute of experimental architecture (ifex) in collaboration with EiABC, Addis Ababa University

Project head: Prof.Dr.Ing. Dirk Donath

Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Year of construction: 2014

Construction time: 1 day

Area: 36.00 m²

Budget: 10,000 USD

Software used: Rhino, Grasshopper, self-developed C#.net Add-on, Control Artcam

More info here: MACU project page


3 Phases 

Each of the three project years follows the same academic structure: (Concept - Test - Realization):

The project of realization (to build) starts with a semester-long theoretical course (1:∞), and parallel to the main course, a second practical course, in which the participants’ task consists in creating a physical model by applying design and planning technology, ending with a scaled (1:10) prototype. This is followed by a second semester practical course terminating in the construction of a 1:1 scale model building.

Through the process of prototyping, students get a deeper and wider understanding of the impact and potential of their previously conceived design, they can simulate, evaluate and update the design results BEFORE they bring it to realization.

The construction of the actual full-scale (1:1) model building takes place in a final, four week long, workshop.

Through the project, the involved students and staff members reflect on the theory and explore the reality with the related needs, constraints and limitations.

The online learning platform allows teachers to share relevant reference materials and to start discussions locally or internationally about topics related to each project phase. Throughout the project, the different activities are coordinated by teachers and documented by the participants themselves as semester course tasks.

The icehubs network (Innovation - Collaboration - Entrepreneurship) including the innovation hubs icebauhaus and iceaddis functions as a communication platform both by internationally connecting the partners and locally by connecting academia with private sector partners.

3 Partners

The Concept-Test-Realization project is carried out by three main partners:

Bauhaus University Weimar

The Bauhaus University Weimar (BUW) has developed a broad teaching and research profile, with a focus around the disciplines of engineering and architecture.

The education is very much project-oriented and interdisciplinary. Students work on real problems that require expertise in different fields: Art, technology, buildingengineering, design and humanities. Through this approach, the Bauhaus University educates future architects as mediators and coordinators between the disciplines. Through the CTR project, the BUW will achieve a better understanding of the African context and will equip itself with relevant research tools and methodologies, intercultural competencies and a well-functioning network.


The Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction & City Development (EiABC) is an autonomous Institute of Technology under the umbrella of Addis Ababa University since 2010. EiABC offers teaching programs on Bachelor, Master and PhD level, all related to the built environment and designed in close consultation with the building industry in Ethiopia. EiABC is East Africa’s leading research and educational institute with regard to use of local resources, alternative construction materials and energy efficiency in African architecture. Through partnering in the CTR project, it aims to strengthen the praxis orientation in teaching and interdisciplinary research competencies. 

University of Juba

University of Juba (UJ) is a cornerstone for the development of the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan. Following the attainment of independence by South Sudan in July 2011, the university has relocated back from the exile in Khartoum to Juba, where it had been founded in 1977. Currently, the University of Juba has eleven colleges and five centers. There are around 15.000 students and 800 academic staff. In the coming years the university needs to increase its quality of teaching and research competencies in order to meet the challenge of increasing urban and rural populations. Knowledge of low cost and sustainable construction technologies, as well as the skills and methods to teach them are factors of acute relevance that the University aims to gain by its participation in the CTR project.


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