Djenné is located at the internal delta of the Niger in Mali. The city, entirely built in earth, covering some 50 hectares, and with a current population of about 12'000, was once an important trading centre. In 1988 the city was included in UNESCO's World Patrimony list. In 1996 a seven-year restoration and conservation project began, financed by the Dutch government and based on the programme formulated by the scholars who had carried out studies on the archaeology, urbanism, and architectural character of Djenné. A local team led by an archaeologist, an architect, and a master mason is implementing the project.
The major construction material of the whole region is banco, raw earth for blocks, mortar and plaster. Rural buildings are usually one-story structures with flat roofs; in the city of Djenné; however, two-story houses are the most common. Roof terraces are actively used and may occasionally have a thatch-covered area to provide shade. Ancillary buildings may be covered with thatch. Dwellings made entirely of thatch appear mostly by the riverbanks as temporary shelter for communities of fishermen during the fishing season. Wood is necessary for the structure of floors and roofs, doors and windows, and toron - the bundles of palm-tree trunks serve simultaneously as decoration and scaffolding for the required periodical rendering of the walls. Otherwise, the unique quality of the city and of its buildings results from the plastic quality of mud, allying structural components, such as pillars and pilasters, with the decorative opportunities they offer, so that pinnacles, parapets and toron appear as natural detail consequences.
In 1995 and in 1996, joint missions were constituted. The mission, acknowledging the special quality of the built space of Djenné, also recognised that if the city had not suffered serious aggression from "modernity", it was in part due to its isolation and to the stagnation of economic activity, which were at the same time causes of the collapse of an alarming number of older structures. It was thus envisaged to undertake a short-term project with the goal of "conserving this unique monument for the present and future generations", which focused on the rehabilitation of 168 of the monumental houses considered to be the most representative of the "national cultural identity".
The 168 buildings that are the object of this project are two-story houses, with one or two interior courtyards. The intervention ranges from minor repairs and wall rendering to total reconstruction, based on existing documents (photos, drawings) or relying on the descriptions of those who remember.