Sustainable architecture lays the groundwork for green and social future

In Rwanda and Burundi, the Belgian Development Agency (Enabel) is focusing on sustainable architecture: circular economy in practice.

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Men build wall

Perforated brick is a very sustainable material. Photo: Construction of a multimedia building for young people in Burundi. @ Enabel


The Belgian Development Agency (Enabel) pays great regard to 'sustainable architecture'. In Rwanda, for example, it is supporting the 'Made in Rwanda' construction materials sector. These local materials are then used to build economic infrastructure such as craft centres, local markets, youth centres and connecting roads.

In Burundi, young people can learn a trade that has applications in construction, such as a bricklayer, welder, plumber and so on. Enabel introduced the concept of a 'construction site school' there: a construction site that only works with recent graduates. This allows them to gain initial professional experience immediately after their studies, while being supervised by teachers and experienced professionals.

Industry, innovation and infrastructure

Perforated brick

In sustainable architecture, it is best to avoid concrete as far as possible. Concrete has to be imported into Rwanda and Burundi and its production consumes lots of energy. Local materials, on the other hand – such as bricks, bamboo and agricultural by-products – are far friendlier to the climate and the environment.

Perforated brick is also extremely promising. It is made from traditional materials and can replace reinforced concrete. Its local production stimulates the economy.

Enabel is seeing to it that a 'virtuous circle' is created. Therefore, it is not only important to train architects who use perforated bricks, but also solid craftsmen who have experience with the material. The completed buildings provide compelling evidence that the material works.

The strong link to local building traditions makes maintenance easier and cheaper. In addition, it provides employment for numerous young people. Furthermore, Enabel is supporting companies to work in greater accordance with the principles of a true circular economy.

People brainstorming about waste management

Architecture is only truly sustainable when communities are involved.
Photo: Collecting ideas about waste management in Rwanda. @ Enabel

Involving communities

But sustainable architecture goes beyond sustainable materials alone. It also means getting communities involved. Those who listen to the people can implement projects and buildings that are far more suited to their needs. For example, if you build a local market, you can have smaller stores connected to it. This way, the small shopkeepers do not feel excluded. You can also incorporate community gardens, provide waste management, engage young people and artists, and so on.

As Elodie Deprez, an Enabel staff member in Rwanda, puts it: ‘We consider cities as living beings, with a complex ecosystem that needs to create space for citizens, the environment and the private sector. There should be room for all of them to thrive.'

Young people sitting on benches and cheering

Satisfied young people in the finished multimedia building! (Result of the construction in photo at the top of the article). @ Enabel