The Future IS Mud: Earth Architecture in Africa (And Lots of Other Places)

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Though it may sound primitive, it's not. Building with earth is a venerable world tradition dating back at least 4,000 years, with the oldest surviving specimens found in the Middle East and South America and ending up today in places like Britain, France, USA, Peru, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, India, Morocco, Mali — the list goes on. In the Future of Mud: A Tale of Houses and Lives in Djenné, a documentary on the rich heritage of earth architecture in one town in Mali, Africa, one gets a true sense of love of craft combined with a love for the creative and integrative possibilities of earth.

Directed by Susan Vogel, the film follows the life of a real mason in the town of Djenné (Mali, Africa) named Komusa Tenapo. Using research culled from Canadian anthropologist Trevor Marchand, the film has an interesting approach to demonstrate the everyday realities and overarching socio-cultural issues of earth building in this historical African town, using real-life and fictitious characters, re-enactments, interviews and live footage to present a very believable, instructive and compelling narrative about traditional building practices and how it intertwines a rich, underlying dimension to Djenné's social and urban fabric.


The film also presents an alternative perspective to the future of earth architecture in a world where architecture is increasingly mechanized and where on the other hand, it is also estimated that half of the global population lives and works in an earth building.

This film skillfully demonstrates that more so than "regular" buildings, earth buildings can occupy a special place rooted in humanity's cultural consciousness and encourage a more intimate relationship between the builder and the built, a community and the Earth — as the material transformed from formlessness to form.

This collective connection to earthen architecture is best seen in the film's footage of the annual re-plastering of the town's pride, the Great Mosque, which is the world's largest earth building, in addition to being a distinguished UNESCO World Heritage site. The first earthen structure here on this site dates back to the 13th century and is re-plastered every year. The day-long, annual festival is truly a communal affair, with plenty of foreign tourists gawking on and filming the orderly chaos.

Thanks to Mali's efforts to preserve this valuable tradition, Mali is one of the centres of earthen architectural heritage, with next year's 10th annual Terra Conference taking place there. If Mali is as out of your means as it is out of mine, then check out The Future of Mud to get a taste of real, down-to-earth architecture.
::First Run / Icarus Films