How and where the mud blocks have come from for our Swawou School building was an interesting process. The first thing to source was an appropriate machine welded to the right dimensions, in our case the different machines varied between five and six inches wide by twelve inches long. Once you have this machine you need to find the right kind of soil to compact into the mud blocks. You fill the compacting machine with the soil then pull on the handle to compress into a mud block and release it.
The mud blocks should then be lined up to dry in the heat of the sun for a few days to a week, so they are solid and won’t crumble much, then they are arranged into a clam of anywhere between three to fifteen thousand. The clam is then lit on fire and left to burn for a few days ensuring that the mud blocks are well fired throughout. This process can sometimes produce some discolouring of the blocks through the smoke and the blocks on the outside skin of the clam don’t always fire fully. Each clam will have some wastage involved from these outer blocks. But they can be used in other buildings and for other uses.
Once the fire goes out, the clam is left to cool for a week, and then the clam can be taken apart and the bricks transported to site. Usually the best thing to do is to produce these fired blocks before rainy season then leave them out to soak up the rain. As the blocks soak up the water they become stronger. In our case we needed to use the blocks before the rainy season so we watered them after each day and every morning to emulate that experience.
Once fired and in place these mud blocks can stand for up to two years being battered by the rain from the rainy season and as soon as they dry out once protected by a roof they will be some of the strongest blocks around. No moving them after that!
The process of sourcing and producing these blocks was integral to our design on the Swawou Project and we were pleased at the influence it had on our workers. One of our most skilled masons was delighted that we were not rendering the building so that his handy work can be admired and another of our longest and most hard working unskilled labourers – Gadafi – saved some of his money from working on site and bought his own machine to start producing his own blocks which he will then be able to sell and make some money from. We were delighted to see the building having such a positive influence on our workers and it’s great to share that passion for mud blocks with everyone involved.