TRADITIONAL SWAHILI STONE HOUSE :ITS SUITABILITY FOR THE WARM HUMID CLIMATE

ABSTRACT

 

The dilemma of the warm humid climate design on whether to have lightweight or heavyweight structures continues to date. While scholars in the past have advocated for sparsely spaced lightweight construction, it may not be possible to achieve this model courtesy of urbanism and population increase. Hence, a new school of thought that is currently underway seeks to validate heavyweight construction in this same climate. Meanwhile, this heavyweight construction already exists at the East African Coast which experiences warm humid climate.

This dissertation contributes to these on-going discussions by examining in depth, the East African coastal built form and its hygro-thermal performance in relation to baseline human comfort limits. In the literature reviewed, it confirms the existence of heavyweight houses along the Swahili coast, and tracks changes of views of various scholars on warm humid climate house design. Three case study cities of Lamu, Mombasa and Zanzibar are selected for detailed investigation, and the various stone houses present categorised according to their layout arrangements and salient characteristics.

In the fieldwork, the author studies the urban morphology of each of the three towns then selects a street to study for further analysis. A sample of each of the different stone house typologies is studied in each town and taken as representative of that particular typology to generate an understanding of its suitability to the warm humid climate. The unit design is scrutinised and its building envelope analysed during fieldwork. Quantifiable physical data measured using digital data loggers included temperature and relative humidity levels as they directly affect human hygro-thermal comfort.

The various house typologies [informed by layout arrangements and building attributes] have been found to simulate different internal environments. Some ameliorate the harsh outdoor conditions while others aggravate these conditions. From this exposition, the author is able to distinguish typologies that are suitable for the warm humid climate in each of the three towns, compare them, and distinctively point out the attributes they possess that make the houses comfortable.

Conversely, typologies that are uncomfortable to reside in are identified, and measures to improve their indoor conditions suggested. Comparison of room sizes of common typologies in the three towns has been carried out, and any underlying logic brought out. Further, comparisons have also been drawn against lightweight houses in other parts of the world experiencing similar climate. The logic of house type concentrations in Lamu and Zanzibar came out clearly in the study; however, for the case of Mombasa it was indistinct.

The study finds evidence to support the validation of heavyweight construction in warm humid climate regions. It isolates principal design strategies that should be incorporated for buildings to be hygro-thermally comfortable. It’s important to note that the constants of Swahili architecture were found to be inseparable from the planning and design of heavyweight settlements. It recommends further research into this area, with a view of revising the Mahoney tables to incorporate heavyweight design.

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