Over-consumption of wood, branches and grasses traditionally used as building materials in Niger has had the two-fold effect of diminishing natural resources and increasing the cost of materials. Building in the traditional manner can thus damage the environment, and the scarcity of wood and grasses has inevitably led to the use of poorer quality materials, with repercussions on the quality of construction. The situation has been exacerbated by the increasing concentration of people now settling in villages and towns. To address these problems, the Woodless Construction Programme promoted by IUCN and WWF, has evolved since 1985 as part of the Project for the Conservation and Management of Natural Resources in the Air and the Ténéré (PAT). The local population is trained in Nubian vault and dome construction techniques, which use locally available materials, principally unstabilised earth mud bricks, to construct both walls and roof without the need for timber shuttering. The resultant domed and vaulted forms resemble indigenous shelters, though these are more normally built from wood and grasses. The three structures presented here: the PAT headquarters, the Village Development Council Centre, and the Case Takatcho-a single room, circular, domed shelter are representative of possibilties for construction using these techniques. Construction Sans Bois continues as an independent programme in Niger, supported by IUCN and implemented by Development Workshop.
Air and Ténéré are hot desert regions with mountains and sandy plains touched by years of drought and the growth of the desert. Iferouane is situated on a rich sandy plain bordered on one side by an irregular seasonal wadi, and irrigated gardens. Beyond the wadi, the land rises sharply into the Tamgak Mountains, reaching a height of 2000 metres. Temperatures rise to 46°C in summer and drop to -2°C in winter, though the diurnal range rests an almost constant 18°C. Heat, cold, glare, dust and wind are important climatic factors which affect the design and layout of constructions.
Buildings have been designed to counteract the harsh desert climate. Indigenous solutions have been adopted; massive walls which absorb heat build-up during the daytime, radiating the same heat at night; internal courtyards allow light and ventilation while offering protection from the hot sun; windows and doors, shaded by arched overhangs, similarly provide ventilation through the use of louvres; and closed east and west façades combat dust-carrying winds. The choice of unstabilised earth bricks and timber-free construction represents a clear conservation and resource management statement. The PAT headquarters in particular has acted as a flagship building, promoting techniques which use local labour and materials and maintain a maximum of financial resources within the local community. Demand for the construction method is increasing, and spontaneous projects, where no technical training or financial assistance has been provided, are increasingly evident. Trained master masons are experimenting with their own ideas and the degree of local appropriation indicates that this method of construction will become self sustaining and is suitable for the rural context of the Sahel.