My research project, "Vernacular architecture of Zambia" began when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia (February 95- November 98). The final two years I taught architecture at Copperbelt University (CBU) , in Kitwe. It was there that I came up with the concept to document traditional architecture.
The reasons were simple; Due to western influences, vernacular styles and patterns are not being passed on from generation to generation. The result is a gradual but consistent "forgetting" about a major part of Zambian culture. I proposed to document as much as possible, analyze it from different angles of thought and expose it to the world via the World Wide Web, which is a powerful teaching tool. Not only is this information available to the people of Zambia, but for people world wide.
Currently, the only published account of this type is a book entitled, "Traditional Architecture of Zambia" published in 1987 by Harmut Smetzer. It is an incredible book but due to limitations in research, only the tip of the iceberg was explored. A comprehensive look was needed to a achieve a realistic view.
Also as important was my counterpart for this research part- George Kanika, a fellow lecturer at CBU. George helped me form the initial ideas and we passed many hours and Mosi's bouncing ideas off of each other.
Research trips were broken into four main areas; North, South, East and West. These were broad classifications but worked out not only for organization but building patterns as well. Trips were taken in the dry season (August- November) because roads were passable and most construction is done in this season.
Documentation was taken through pictures, measurement, sketching, asking questions and video. This documentation became my major source of information for analysis. Many insights came from George, other lecturers at CBU, the Zambian Peace Corps staff, and fellow Peace Corps Volunteers. This outside information helped me see things that I might of missed or look at existing information in a new light.
After the first trip, George and I created a rough skeleton of how the web page would flow and how the information would be viewed. Each trip would shape the skeleton even more. During the last few months I was in the computer lab learning the basic computer skills and introduction into web design from Patrick Chiyanta. It was at this stage that I left Zambia and returned home in November 1998. Documentation of the four areas and a basic skeleton was what I returned with.
The months of December and January was spent going over this information and taking the analysis to the next level. In February I enrolled in an independent research class at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, School of Architecture and Urban Planning. I asked Professor Harry Van Odenallen to be my tutor. Harry is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Hounduras from 1967-1969. I figured that he would understand my project and what I was trying to accomplish. And he did! So the project was able to take on another goal from just awareness of Zambian vernacular architecture. My second goal is to convince people that building with vernacular materials and patterns not only works, but it is practical as well.
There is a myth among society that traditional structures are substandard, primitive, secondary or temporary. Why does this myth prevail? I have no firm answers for this enigma. One theory is that colonialists started the modern building pattern. These people not only had the power but the wealth as well. It is obvious that their structures and BOMA's (towns) represented this. People will build what they see and observe and more importantly- believe in. There has been an ever-increasing trend in the past 30 years in Zambia of migration from villages to cities. With this increase in traffic, this western building techniques and attitudes have been infiltrating even the most remote of villages.
412 kilometers
531 kilometers
724 kilometers
467 kilometers
The first step was to organize a group from CBU and the procure funding through Peace Corps Zambia. Without these two organizations this project would not have been a possibility.
Mark Vander Vort, Zambia Peace Corps Director, and myself.
Copperbelt University campus
Anne M.
Our student group
Arthur K.
George K.
Our vehicle getting stuck in Southern Province
Kirk T.
Harry V.
Skeleton of Project

And finally to Judson Dreanan,

Judson helped me immensely with many aspects of this project. Beginning with fixing my computer after hurricane Ilene took it out (why did I leave it plugged in?) He taught me Deamweaver and would come over time and time again to solve yet another problem- thanks for letting him Heather! Then there were crash courses in Photoshop and Illustartor. Many hours over the past three years have resulted in the final (almost) product you see here. Thanks Judson

And to the rest of my friends in Beaufort, thanks for listening to my babble about this all the years. Of course we had kayaking, cooking, chess, conversations, croquet, wine, cribbage, Water Festival and friendship. And the best part- Lolitas porch.

Maybe that is why it took so long to do this project- but it was worth every step. Cheers!


Concluding thoughts:

The biggest thing that I learned from this research is the need for more documentation. There is surprisingly little out there . And if there is information out there, it is incredibly difficult to access. I completely believe that a data base should exist with analysis of vernacular architecture. In this day of globalization, many cultures are losing there identity, which architecture is a part of. The only way we can improve on the vernacular ways is to understand them. And the first step of that is documentation

If anyone has any comments, information or dreams like I have, please contact me. I would love to discuss the possibilities

Judson playing croquet?
Patrick and pizza