A Takienta, the traditional Batammariba earthen building type.
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Traditional Takienta Architecture of Benin and Togo Recognized as a Contemporary Climate Solution

A Takienta, the traditional Batammariba earthen building type.

Koutammakou, land of the Batammariba, is a remarkable cultural landscape that straddles the border of Benin and Togo at the foot of the Atacora mountain range. Batammariba means “those who are the real architects of earth,” pointing to the importance of their earthen construction traditions. This concept is epitomized by the takienta, the traditional Batammariba earthen building type.

Following the inclusion of Koutammakou on the 2020 Watch, World Monuments Fund engaged in an initiative to revive traditional knowledge of takienta construction, working with the Benin Volunteers Corps to document and assess traditional settlements of Koutammakou in both Benin and Togo, and carry out physical conservation at selected sites with local artisans. The project also planted 5,000 trees across a number of communities to provide a sustainable supply of the wooden elements that compose the structural frame of the takienta.

In November 2021, Ibrahim Tchan, founder and head of the Benin Volunteers Corps, traveled to Europe to attend the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26), where the takienta was named a contemporary climate solution at the Construction21 Green Solutions Awards. Considered alongside 192 sites across 25 countries, the takienta received a special Jury Mention in the categories of Low Carbon, Energy, and Temperate Climates, and Health and Comfort.

In an interview, Ibrahim Tchan explains how traditional takienta building techniques offer important lessons for sustainable climate adaptive architecture.
 

During COP26, the traditional architecture of takienta in Benin and Togo was named a contemporary climate solution at the Construction 21 Green Solutions Awards. What aspects of the takienta make it an effective response to climate change? 

The use of bio-sourced materials contributes significantly to the storage of atmospheric carbon and the preservation of natural resources. The construction of the takienta makes intelligent use of locally available eco-materials, including earth, wood, néré and shea fruits, straw, raffia, kenaf, millet stalk, and cow dung. The design and use of these materials also provide for excellent natural air conditioning. 
 

A takienta being given new layers of earth plaster.
A takienta being given new layers of earth plaster.

What did you learn during your participation at COP26? 

At COP26 I learned that we must act faster than ever to reverse the current trend of global warming. States around the world are already feeling the impact of this change in different ways. For southern countries it is unprecedented precipitation, heat waves, and drought. It is, therefore, difficult to be satisfied with COP26 knowing that the commitments made so far will not achieve the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) goal of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the commitments already made will be honored. 

What was the place of cultural heritage and its preservation in the discussions of global warming? 

It is important to remember that just before the opening of COP26 in Glasgow, the cultural sector was included among the strategic priorities of the Rome Declaration of G20 leaders. The role of culture was confirmed by the events organized by the Climate Heritage Network (CHN) at COP26, and the release of their first manifesto, “Accelerating Climate Action through the Power of Arts, Culture and Heritage,” which calls on governments to integrate the knowledge and skills of cultural professionals in the fight against climate change. 

Is there anything else you would like to highlight about the tradition of takienta in Koutammakou particularly in relation to global warming and sustainable development? 

The Batammariba must be recognized as masters of architecture and land use planning. Batammariba architecture is the fruit of several centuries of reflection and adaptations. As a result, it is extremely attuned to the natural environment and in perfect correspondence with the religious concepts and the social organization of the Batammariba. This architecture and spatial planning are responses to complex contemporary needs and a lesson for today’s architecture in the face of climate change. 
 

This article first appeared in 2022 Watch Magazine. To read more stories from the magazine, click here.