Building sustainable cities and communities is one of the biggest challenges across the African continent. The city of Sélibaby in Mauritania is facing serious challenges due to being exposed to yearly inundations. For this reason, a masterplan was made by the Mauritanian Ministry of Habitat to gradually relocate the complete city to a water protected area. LEVS was commissioned to propose an urban plan and architectural design for the first 250 houses to be realized as part of the ‘New Sélibaby’. But besides from just making a design we also searched for the question behind this request. How can our design make impact and help to make the development of New Sélibaby prosper? How can we integrate local traditions in a contemporary design instead of the standard technocratic design strategy?
Inviting to form a livable community
The plan marks a shift from the often-imposed grid system. With its public and semi-public spaces of different sizes and privacy levels it aims to inspire people to form a liveable community. This is achieved primarily through planning of public functions such as squares, parks, markets, mosques or schools. The typical wide and space consuming streets are replaced by more traditional and shaded narrow streets which creates space for collective green gardens. Broken viewpoints create a sense of human scale, inviting the inhabitants to activate the public spaces.
The plots are grouped into housing blocks, each of which will have a shared vegetable garden to ensure food security. The stand-alone kitchens alongside the street and low property walls invite for social interaction. The grey water purification system in the bathrooms will provide enough water for the gardens at no extra cost. Ecological toilets are built and the next step is to introduce a complete off-grid system with solar panels and an independent water source.
Built by locals
The sustainable houses are made of hydraulically compressed earth blocks which are produced on site of locally mined clay. It is a natural material suitable for making comfortable interiors in hot climates. The houses are built by local people, who have been trained beforehand. Students from the local technical school, women from the village, employers from a local contractor, soldiers from the government. Together they work on the future of New Sélibaby.