Building the SUDU

ETHiopian Adventures
September 2, 2010, 1:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

This blog is a first person account of the construction of the SUDU – the Sustainable Urban Dwelling Unit, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – as offered by the construction manager and visiting expert in the area of thin-shell tile vaulting.

The construction of the SUDU prototype was the primary goal of the ETHiopia Urban Laboratory summer school workshop, run in June and July of 2010, in conjunction with experts at the ETH Zürich and the EiABC (Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development).  The SUDU is an applied research project meant to culminate in a low-income and sustainable dwelling unit built with local materials and local labor.  As the masonry vaulting expert representing the Faculty of Architecture at the ETH, specifically the research group of Prof. Philippe Block, my task has been to oversee the construction of the first floor catenary masonry vault and to train students from the ETH, students from the EiABC, and Ethiopian daily laborers in timbrel vault technology.  Therefore – beyond the clear goal of the final prototype – the primary application of my research is towards the dissemination of skills and knowledge, including technical skill, knowledge of structural principles and clear understanding of the behavior of vaults at the full scale.  This BLOG is intended to focus on the problem of training – or capacity building – of so called ‘appropriate building technologies’ in Ethiopia.

This work could not have been accomplished without the support of the following people:
Prof. Dr. Philippe Block (Chair of building structure at the ETH), Dirk Hebel (Scientific Director EiABC), Dr. Christine Bratrich (Director ETH Sustainability),  Dr. Barbara Becker (Director ETH North-South Centre), Prof. Dr. Marc Angélil (Dean D-ARCH ETH), Dr. Elias Yitbarek (Housing Chair and Research Directer EiABC) , Zegeye Cherenet (Deputy Director EiABC), Fasil Giorghis.

And my primary team on the ground for running all at once an international summer school and a full scale applied research construction:  Catherine Lippuner (Workshop coordinator from ETH Sustainability), Astrid Smitham (Assistant for ETH Sustainability), Tibebu Daniel (Workshop coordinator from EiABC), Herbert Schmitz (Lecturer for Appropriate Building Technology at the EiABC), Dejene Liramo (Consulting Structural Engineer), Josef Hennes and Melakeselam Moges.

Last, the Ethiopian daily laborers I worked with for five weeks, and the nature of our exchange, will be the focus of this BLOG.  It is this group of people to whom I owe my greatest thanks for their impact on this research, especially Abinet, Abush, Chamba, Dibrou, Geri, Soloman, and Dawid.


7 Comments so far
Leave a comment

This was and is very impressive work, the kind of technology transfer resource poor African need.
Once again I congratulate you for this effort which is directed to the right place.

Kind regards

Comment by Jumca

This is a fantastic resource and beutifully presented , thankyou I’d be interested how you house was accepted by the Ethiopians.

Comment by Paul

Dear Paul,
Thank you for your kind words. There is a short documentary that compiles some thoughts and reactions of various participants – academics, professionals, workers – at the following link:

For more information about the issue of acceptance by local people, you might want to keep your eye on the rural sister project, called the SRDU (Sustainable Rural Dwelling Unit) – there is a book called “Building SRDU” which is soon to be published. As this project is a very much developed in-context approach, the capacity-building concerns and the concerns of acceptance are much more focal aspects of the research.

Comment by limacon24

What a fantastic project. Density is so important to delivering infrastructure! There’s no reason in 2013 that the knowledge of masonry vaulting should remain so well-hidden. I’m also looking forward to day when very-low-cost fablabs are finally ready to assist projects like these, locally fabricating those last few difficult-to-obtain items.

Are there proper drawings of SUDU available anywhere?

Comment by James David Moffet III

Really nice project and the way how you did that. Involving many aspects. I came here because I am doing the future cities mooc.
it is a pity that the first link does not work

Comment by Carlos Mogrovejo

Thank you for your comment! It seems that the link has been moved here, but I am not certain if it is functional:

Comment by limacon24

Fascinating description of an important project, and your regard and respect for you Ethiopian crew is evident. Many thanks–

Comment by Rudy Berg

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: