Togo: The architecture school adapting to African cities and needs

By Caroline Chauvet
Posted on Sunday, 3 October 2021 21:28

Students and teachers at the African School of Architecture and Urban Planning (EAMAU) in Lomé, in July 2021. Caroline Chauvet for JA

Open for 45 years, the African School of Architecture and Urban Planning in Lomé has adapted to the new challenges that African cities have.

The entrance is imposing and decorated with the flags of 14 French-speaking sub-Saharan states that co-founded and co-managed the institution. The large white and ochre building stands out from the others due to its size. We are at l’École Africaine des Métiers de l’Architecture et de l’Urbanisme (EAMAU) in the heart of Lomé.

The inter-state institution was opened in 1976 and has been headed by a Malian architect, Moussa Dembélé, since September 2015. It hosts about 800 students, all from member states of the school, including students from Rwanda, Madagascar, Comoros, Mauritius, and Djibouti.

The training is conducted under three departments with bachelor and masters courses: architecture and heritage, urban planning and development, and urban management and environment. EAMAU also offers a research master’s degree in architecture and urban development as well as a specialised master’s degree in sustainable transport and mobility in African cities. Other personalised courses are currently being developed.

Both undergraduate and master’s programs end with a dissertation on problems facing an African city. Last July, more than 200 students presented their theses: more than half of them in architecture.

The school does not offer a doctorate, but redirects its students to partner universities in Africa and Europe, with partnerships with higher education institutions in France, Belgium and Italy. In addition, EAMAU offers complimentary training for professionals, such as a certification program in energy transition and sustainable cities, in partnership with Institut de la Francophonie pour le développement durable (IFDD).

Intellectual rivalry

EAMAU remains true to its original goal of supporting the urbanisation of African cities and continuously cultivates intellectual competition among students, teachers and professionals.

“The school produces architects throughout Africa. They are the ones who are at the centre of reflection and idea-sharing,” says Professor Phillipe Yavo, a teacher at EAMAU and director of academic affairs.

The school is adapting to the new challenges of African cities and is thinking, in particular, about the development of capitals and other large cities. As a result, many former EAMAU students currently work on the Greater Lomé projects. To remedy the problems that arise with capital cities, smaller secondary cities must also be developed – this is part of the teaching of the Masters 1 in urban planning.

We notice that many developments are made without the population being consulted. So the school teaches us to first analyse the population’s needs, then to propose adapted solutions. Then the population is included with the implementation of the proposed developments.

Ecology was introduced to the curriculum 15 years ago, alongside the LMD system (Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctorate) and it has to be understood in its entirety: renewable energies, waste and wastewater management, green spaces, intelligent and efficient buildings, cleaner and more economical, etc. All courses now include sustainable development as part of the curriculum.

“We focus on the protection of biodiversity and the creation of nature in the city. For example, in urban planning, we must always create blue or green belts (plans or water points) within developments,” says Joëlle Elvire Kanté, who has just finished her master’s degree in urban planning.

The 23-year-old Beninese graduate student presented a thesis on the preservation and development of sensitive ecosystems in Ouidah, near Cotonou.

Responding to inhabitants needs

Located on the continent, EAMAU is as close as possible to the evolution and needs of African cities, whose main challenges remain access to good infrastructure (especially paved roads) and essential services such as running water, wastewater and waste management.

As a result, the school emphasises contact with those already in the field and gives its students at least two practical workshops each year.

“One of the things that impressed me about the training is that in each project, the emphasis is placed on the participatory aspect of the inhabitants,” says Kanté.

“We notice that many developments are made without the population being consulted. So the school teaches us to first analyse the population’s needs, then to propose adapted solutions. Then, the population is included with the implementation of the proposed developments.”

Local solutions

Within the school, training and research are strongly oriented towards local architecture. “For example, some of our modules are based on sustainability, in particular, the use of local materials, such as mud bricks, wood or bamboo,” says Achille Ndongo Nguendia, a Cameroonian architect and director of development and research, who teaches architectural ethics. “Unfortunately, these materials are often considered as precarious materials and this must change,” he says.

Using this method, the earth is used to preserve the buildings using a technique developed by Phillippe Yavo in his thesis (presented at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa) and the traditional architectural skills of the Batammariba population in Togo and Benin. The Batammariba traditionally build tall cylindrical houses out of mud, which Professor Yavo wants to integrate into modern architecture.

The future of Lomé

The Togolese capital of Lomé is well-planned, with an extension within Greater Lomé, and its innovative city planning and architecture is also thanks to former EAMAU students. Even non-Togolese graduates often carry out projects in Lomé.

This is the case with the BOAD cité, a colourful residential area built by the Burkinabe architect Souleymane Zerbo, an EAMAU alumnus.

“Many competitions are launched by urban communities with our students to develop spaces. Recently, the plastic arts club of EAMAU created the frescoes [on] the wall[s] of the University of Lomé,” says Professor Ndongo Nguendia.

Buildings are increasingly being put up with the environment in mind. This is the case with the new headquarters of the African Society for Biofuels and Renewable Energy (Saber-Abrec) in Lomé II, designed by Eya-Eza Kao. Finished in 2018, the building meets all environmental performance criteria.

“Solar power supply, low energy lighting, ventilated facade, rainwater recovery for gardens, use of sustainable materials – compressed earth bricks – and the preservation of biodiversity,” says the Lomé architect, also a former student of EAMAU.

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