A major development issue: access to decent housing

In semi-arid regions of Africa, bush timber has been used for roofing and for load-bearing supports. However, climate change, deforestation, and increasing population growth mean that traditional building techniques are no longer feasible.

Timber & earth roof


Timber & thatch roof

Tin roof after 5 years

People in rural areas have to buy sheet metal (corrugated iron), sawn timber beams and rafters for roof-building. These imported building materials, with their deplorable thermal, acoustic, and aesthetic properties, must be paid for in cash, a problem for those living mostly outside any formal economic system. Finding the necessary funds becomes a major drain on family resources and on local economies.

 Find out more about the problem of access to decent housing


An appropriate & affordable solution

Teams of African masons trained in the Nubian Vault (NV) technique, who build safe, sturdy, well-insulated vaulted roofs of mud bricks, and train local apprentices on-site. The bricks are made from locally available earth and water, dried in the sun, and can be protected from rain erosion by traditional methods. Houses with Nubian Vault roofs cost less to build than those with tin and timber roofs, are cool in hot weather, warm in the coldest of nights, and can last for 50 years or more if properly maintained (as opposed to the average 7 - 10 year lifetime of a tin roof).                       

Making bricks

Building a vault

A completed NV house

Association La Voute Nubienne (AVN) promotes the development of a self-sustaining market in NV construction, by facilitating the recruitment, on-site training, and support of village masons in several West African countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Benin...). AVN's local teams and extension agents pump-prime and enable the growth of indigenous markets in Nubian Vault construction, providing employment opportunities, access to decent housing, and the growth of local economic circuits.

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AVN's role as a social enterprise


Over ten years of impressive results and impacts

Since the year 2000, AVN has seen an annual growth rate of 36% in the numbers of masons trained and vaults built. By September 2012, in Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Benin, and Mauritania:

  • 262 NV masons have been trained, with over 300 apprentices in training
  • 1,628 vaults built, for some 800 buildings (= 12 km of vaults if put end-to-end!)
  • Carbon savings of ~ 3,200 tons of CO2-equivalent achieved compared to alternative construction methods
  • 12,000 people (client families, masons, apprentices, laborers...) have benefitted directly from NV buildings
  • Over 1,200,000 € of economic impact on local economies have been achieved.


AVN's work has achieved major international recognition (Schwab Foundation African Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2012, Semi-Finalist for the Buckminster Fuller Challenge 2012, World Habitat Awards Finalist 2009, World Bank Development Marketplace Competition 2009, Tech Awards of Innovation 2007, Ashoka's Changemakers Prize for Affordable Housing 2006 ...).

Find out more about the results and impacts of AVN's Program


AVN's Commitment:  A ROOF    <<<< A SKILL  >>>>  A MARKET

Vaulted roof interior

Skilled NV masons at work

     Promotional meeting