A Study on the Building Materials and Construction
Technology of Traditional Hausa Architecture in Nigeria
J Zhang
and Z L Yusuf
College of Architecture and Art, North China University of Technology, Beijing,
Corresponding author and e-mail: J Zhang, 469542597@qq.com
Abstract. In this paper, the traditional Hausa Architecture (Tubali) a Vernacular Architecture
common to Northern—Nigeria is taken as the research object. By visiting remaining
buildings, conducting research and talking to local historians, we aim to outline the form,
functions, construction materials, the unique Construction technology and more used in
Hausa architecture. We hope that more people will understand this indigenous architecture
and realize that it is disappearing, and based on this, suggestions are made for the
improvement and contemporary development of the traditional architecture of Hausa.
1. Research background
The Hausa are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa. Hausa is one of Africa's largest ethnic
groups. The Hausa people are mainly distributed in the Sahelian and Sudan Daura area of northern
Nigeria and southeastern Niger.
Before the introduction of modern European architecture and imported building materials, The
traditional Hausa people in Nigeria already have their own home-built forms and skills to meet their
social, cultural and religious needs. In the North, the strongest influence came from Islam whilst in
the South influence came from the return of ex—slaves (mainly from Brazil) and colonization. And
the climate, human physiology and geography led to the development of Curvilinear conical and mud
roofed structured in the North and Rectilinear thatch roof mud houses in the South. However, both
styles of Traditional Architecture used local materials such as earth, wood, stone and thatch.
Now most of traditional buildings have virtually disappeared from the landscape due to
urbanization, weathering and general lack of interest in preserving them. It is very difficult to obtain
historical information about the architecture of Nigeria before the 20th century, especially its pre-
colonial period. This paper focuses on the study of the traditional architectural forms, materials, and
construction techniques, and to raise awareness to the disappearance of Hausa architecture in Nigeria.
2. Characteristics of Hausa architecture
Rainy season in the northern part of Nigeria last for only three to four months (June—September).
The rest of the year is hot and dry with temperatures climbing as high as 40°C. Therefore, most earth
roofing of traditional Hausa buildings in Northern Nigeria are flat.
Hausa people are culturally conservative as a result, Hausa homes are designed to be very private.
They are usually enclosed with walls and contain a courtyard in the middle connected to the entrance
Zhang, J. and Yusuf, Z.
A Study on the Building Materials and Construction Technology of Traditional Hausa Architecture in Nigeria.
In Proceedings of the International Workshop on Materials, Chemistry and Engineering (IWMCE 2018), pages 434-441
ISBN: 978-989-758-346-9
Copyright © 2018 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
hall. Hausa people have a high sense of community amongst the Hausa long before the influence of
Islam. Hausa people usually settle in larger groups in areas of common interest. Its residence is also
large, having 4-10 rooms because like stated earlier Hausa people live in extended families.
2.1. Architectural elements
2.1.1. Roof eaves. The sprouts called ‘Indororo’ extend out from the palm—wood structure inside
the roof. Long and projected roof eaves and spouts to drain rain preventing the water from soaking or
weighing down the roof as shown in Figure 1. Then the drained rain water is collected in containers
and used for cleaning, washing etc.
Figure 1. Hausa style homes with extended roof sprouts.
2.1.2. Doorways and windows. Doorways in Hausa building were usually of two types; outer
doorways with wooden or iron doors on a pivot and inner doorways which were door less and usually
covered with braided grass curtains. The use of lintels, beams, brackets and corbels were common in
the design of the doorway.
These were simple openings usually on the uppermost part of the wall on the lee side of the
building less affected by the driving rain. Despite their small sizes, they admitted quite enough light
and air for lighting and ventilation. These windows sometimes had lattice work made of thin boards
as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Arabesque window screen.
2.1.3. Decoration. The decoration of houses is mainly to the women. They decorate their buildings
exterior with painted designs or with relief patterns worked into a soft clay surface. Hausa women of
northern Nigeria decorate and paint their houses mud walls with various geometric patterns used on
A Study on the Building Materials and Construction Technology of Traditional Hausa Architecture in Nigeria
the shapes of windows, step and other building features and everyday objects, which communicate
information about the social status of a building’s owner.
‘Dagin Arewa’ it is one of the recurring elements you’ll see in Hausa buildings. The symbol
shows three interlocked (or merely superimposed) loops, forming a 2—axis symmetrical design as
shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3. “Dagin arewa” decoration.
The Dagin Arewa is an emotive symbol of Northern Nigeria, it represents ‘Unity in Diversity’,
which was encapsulated in the ‘One North’.
2.1.4. Typical hausa home layout. The Hausa-man has always a preference for the main entrance of
his house to face east. This gives a shaded ‘Dakali’ for evening relaxation. The entrance hall is
usually the only way in and out of a Hausa home, the reason being security.
The parlor is used for receiving guests. The size and beauty of the parlor reflects the status of the
home owner. Another room of similar description to the parlor is used for business, usually selling
local food, spices, art & craft or selling services.
The toilets and kitchen are located usually far off the house as shown in Figure 4.
Figure 4. Typical Hausa home layout.
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2.2. Structure characteristics
2.2.1. Tubali walls. Hausa architecture is called ‘Tubali’, the word was derived from the little
cone—shaped mud bricks used in the buildings.
The walls of most Hausa buildings were built on stone foundations, which were either of tubali or
stone. The depth and thickness of this foundation varied in proportion to the dimensions of the walls
to be placed on them. The walls were laid with the tubali laid close together and an inverted tubali
used to fill any gaps especially at the corners. All voids were filled with plaster, it was applied on the
internal tubali of the wall first by using a horizontal force to push it inside; When done and dried, the
outer layers where then covered with another layer of plaster. Thus creating an extremely thorough
end result as shown in Figure 5.
Figure 5. Tubali wall section.
In large building where cost was not a major consideration, horizontal bracings made from azara
grids were set in the walls for extra strength. The walls decreased in thickness upwards making them
well tapered and thus increasing their structural stability.
2.2.2. Arches structure. One characteristic feature of Hausa architecture is the domed room formed
by a number of intersecting arches projecting from the walls of the building. The arches are made of
lengths of palm wood set into the wall and projecting at increasing angles until they are horizontal at
the apex of the arch where they are joined to a similar construction projecting from the opposite wall
as shown in Figure 6. The palm-wood frame is then covered with mud to produce smooth free-
standing arches which support a ceiling made of palm-wood panels and covered with rush mats and
then with a water-resistant layer of plaster, like material made out of the residue of indigo dye pits.
A Study on the Building Materials and Construction Technology of Traditional Hausa Architecture in Nigeria
Figure 6. Section of a 2 floor building with structural arches.
3. Main traditional material and construction technology
These naturally occurring materials of Hausa architecture include: mud, timber, bamboo, thatches,
clay, palm frond, raffia palm, bark of trees, bush palm—fiber, animal waste, stone etc.
The uses of these materials were based on the following factors: availability, crude technological
know—how, financial constraint, crude tool and equipment, transportation system, the ruling class
choice and the climatic effect on such materials. However, much been achieved in the use of these
materials. Building materials in Hausa architecture are divided into four groups earth, plants, iron and
3.1. Earth
Birji is earth used to make tubali and mortar. It dug out from the kududdufi, the burrow pit carefully
chosen by the builder since the birji varies considerably from town to town and even from pit to pit.
The birji is first broken into small particles with shovel. From then on the processing is quite
different depending on whether it is to be used for tubali, mortar or plaster.
The broken birji is wetted, spread flat and trampled by foot until it reaches the consistency of
thick paste. It is left for a couple of days to dry and then wetted and trampled again before being
formed into tubali.
Then the tubali maker begins by rolling the churi on the ground using fine sand to prevent sticking
he then shapes his material first into a cylinder then into a double cone, thick in the center and
pointed at both ends. This he lifts in both hands about half a meter from the ground and then throws it
down with one hand in such a way that one of the pointed ends flattens against the earth. The
particles of the birji adjust themselves during this short moment of impact and about two weeks later
when the tubali are dry the particles will be immobilized in this position thus almost pre stressed as
shown in Figure 7.
Figure 7. Tubali bricks left to dry in the sun.
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Mortar is prepared from the same birji as the tubali only the process of breaking, wetting,
tramping, and drying is repeated more than twice.
3.2. Plants
These timbers commonly called ‘Azara’. Fibrous trees found mainly in the savannah region of
Nigeria. Unlike timber, it is a termite resistance structural and don’t easily decay unless subjected to
long period of dampness. Their uses are wide-ranging. They serve as a wooden reinforcement,
strengthening the structure of walls and pillars of loam; they make sophisticated frame constructions,
beams, brackets and corbels; they create a framework within arch like structures; and they serve as
elements carrying flat and domed roofs. They are also used as overlay for toilet pits.
For binding the rafters of grass-hoofed houses, the extremely tough stems of the fara geza were
used. Ropes of great strength were produced from twisted bark of the roots of dakwora, were also
produced from the inner layer of the bark of the kuka (baobab) tree.
Grasses found in Nigerian traditional architecture. The type of grasses available in a locality
depends on the climatic region, vegetation and closeness to water source. The raffia palm leave that
found in the most river banks were made into thatch roof cover called ‘Bambu’. The barks of such
tree were used as ridges to root while leaves and thatches were used as roof cover. Some leaves can
also be used as wall paint, such as indigo.
The plaster used for covering walls and is made from birji and the fluid makuba which is made
from the fruit pods of the locust bean tree. Also powdered locust bean pods were spread over the
floor of beaten earth, and water was poured over it.
3.3. Iron ore
The most impressive Hausa iron products were the city gates, made of long strips of hammered metal
joined together on sturdy frames and set on pivots instead of hinges as shown in Figure 8. Apart from
that, iron was used for complementary items, mostly nails. Some nails were cast with decorated
heads and were used in rails of outer doors of houses.
Figure 8. Hausa style irongate.
Iron ore was found two or three meters down and to get it, wells were dug to the ore levels and
then extended sideways as the ore was excavated. Huge furnaces of clay about two meters high were
built on site and charged with alternate layers of ore and wood charcoal.
3.4. Stone
Stone wasn’t often used for building in Nigeria. But the Hausa used it in building town walls and
bridges. Rough stones were also used for foundations of structures and sometimes as walling material
for houses and fences as shown in Figure 9.
A Study on the Building Materials and Construction Technology of Traditional Hausa Architecture in Nigeria
Figure 9. A building of traditional Nigerian architecture with a stone foundation.
4. Contemporary development and problems
For over a thousand years, it is said that traditional Hausa architecture has been part and parcel of the
Hausa civilization itself. Richness in the architectural design often signifies royalty, power, wealth
and scholarship. Also the traditional Nigerian architecture has the advantage of abundance of
materials low cost sustainability, no skilled—Labour, longevity, urban fabric for shade, no
irritant chemicals, environmental friendliness, soundproofing, fire resistance and so on. Although,
some Niger republic cities and other ancient places, the architectural design that once adorned these
towns have now been replaced with the modern architectural designs—often laced with the
traditional Hausa architectural touch. But the traditional building designs are now getting
increasingly absent. Even the royal palaces are now changing their look. Finding information on
tubarius becomes more difficult.
Natural erosion and a general lack of interest by the people are the main factors in the
disappearance of traditional Hausa architecture. The high influx of modern architectural designs is
the greatest threat to those of old. Maintenance is another factor, people find it very difficult to
maintain the traditional designs because the materials are difficult to find and the expertise is also
fast-vanishing. The lack of research and transfer of technology to the younger generation are also one
of the factors militating the development of the traditional designs. Even people believe that living in
mud houses is a sign of backwardness, forgetting that there is a lot of science in mud houses.
How to protect the traditional Hausa architecture, inherit the traditional construction technology,
and realize the adaptive development model under the concept of contemporary social development
is the urgent solution we need to solve. Nowadays, in Nigeria, modern auxiliary composites such as
adobe brick, cast earth, rammed earth, cob, and mud based ferrocement have been gradually
recognized as eco—friendly connecting and reinforcing materials. And tries to apply it to the renewal
of the technical protection and construction of the traditional Hausa buildings, which provides more
adaptability and possibility for the contemporary development of the traditional buildings.
Determined to promote Hausa traditional architecture, an NGO called ‘International Network for
Traditional Building, Architecture & Urbanism (INTBAU)’, is also making efforts in the areas of
seminars and workshops among others towards the promotion of the designs.
5. Conclusions
With the growing number of environmental problems, we see all around us, natural building
materials are a powerful alternative to modern conceptions of building. In the protection of
traditional architecture, we should to shift the focus unto the essence of traditional building. Hence
the materiality (earth, wood, stone and thatch) and the principles (privacy, space, comfort) guarding
the designs of Nigerian traditional architecture. Sure, we need to put emphasis on innovation and
seek new ways to make buildings perform better.
With that being said, there’s still a place for history, there are many lessons we can learn from the
past. And we will continue to promote the comfort and sustainability of traditional buildings and
IWMCE 2018 - International Workshop on Materials, Chemistry and Engineering
meet the modern low-carbon lifestyles through new technical means and modern auxiliary materials
in terms of physical environment, space use and structural adaptability.
This paper is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China Project No:
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A Study on the Building Materials and Construction Technology of Traditional Hausa Architecture in Nigeria