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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Vander Vort, Zambia Peace Corps Director, and myself.
vehicle getting stuck in Southern Province
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-
Maybe that is why it took so long to do this project- but it was worth every
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