African Brick Making Project: Part 1 – The Context

This is a National Science Foundation research grant I participated in 2008 while in graduate school. I studied and documented the long term sustainability of  brick making techniques around the Uluguru mountains in East Central Tanzania.


Uluguru Mountains

Uluguru Mountains


View to the Morogoro Valley from a foot path above Keebwa Village




Morogoro is small city about two hours west along the main highway from Dar es Salaam, sitting in the southern Tanzania highlands at the base of the Uluguru mountain range. The Ngerengere River flows over the northwest quadrant with tributaries coursing through both the formal and informal communities within the boundary of the Morogoro Municipality. Along these alluvial banks the red kilns of the brick makers emerge above the tall river grasses. I first saw them from the window of a bus on the Abood line between Dar es Salaam and Morogoro. The distance between the two cities was marked by the steady transition from the pallid grey streetscapes of Dar, to the rich warm reds of the country villages in the mountains. Between the phasing out of the sand cement and the slow gathering of brick structures along the road was a gap, nearly an hour of small mud and waddle villages, markets made of wooden poles with roofs of sack cloth and corrugated metal.

Kilns on the outskirts of Morogoro



Typical Side Street on Morogoro. Mud and Waddle with Corrugated Metal Roof

The people of these in-between regions build as they have for centuries. The home is not a permanent condition, but rather an entity. It stays in one place, but grows and shifts and changes. It vibrates. The mud washes out one year and is patched; the roof is trimmed and repaired, rejuvenated with fresh hewn reeds or palm fronds. A rice bag over a window is replaced with a smoky slab of glass, a damaged wall is shorn up with a sharpened timber. Every ten to fifteen years the entire building has been replaced piece by piece, without losing its identity. It changes, but remains as well, a slow shifting.  The mud used in the construction of this building typology is rich in clay and clay allows for this. When dry it stands solidly, sewing up a pile of rock and pole into a strong wall. When wet, however, it is soft and pliable, can hold up the falling stone, seal the leaky crevice.

Wall / Door Detail

Watching out the window of  the bus these buildings  reminded me of the  kiln of the Darling Pottery Studio, an old brick kiln with a corrugated roof, listing to one side and shorn up again. I spent my summers fishing out cracked and broken bricks, replacing them one by one, year by year. I have rebuilt the door more than twice and taken down the chimney only to build it up again, stronger, taller. Its thick walls are pocked with balls of clay, stuffed in during the firing and hardened, caked over the top to retain the heat, sealing the chimney to ensure a clean and swift draft.  It is the same kiln it’s always been, but it is not at the same time as well.

Kiln at the Darling Pottery Studio

Wood Burning Kiln for Firing Bricks, Morogoro, Tanzania


I came to Morogoro to study the kilns of the brick making industry and while there discovered that the brick makers themselves are involved in a large scale disassembling. Their industry is being challenged by government agencies within the municipality who have been mandated to curb the destruction of the rain forest in the high mountain jungle of the Uluguru Mountains. The current process of brick making involves a wood fired field kiln, which often times uses wood harvested illegally from the jungle regions. The brick makers have not had the opportunity to mitigate the concerns of the municipality, however, but are being forced to move off their land with no chance to do what those who work with mud do best, to shape it into something else, to use it again in a different way, re-work, re-use.

Group of Brick Makers, Morogoro, Tanzania

This is the mystique of clay, its place in the human imagination. It represents the pliable in human nature. In many early cultures, it represents us, the human being, the adaptor, the creator, the created. Every child knows what to do with clay. He squeezes a ball and then opens his hand to inspect the impression. He squeezes it again, and it begins to change into something else. It stirs the imagination and then the imagination stirs it, embeds itself within. This relationship is ingrained deep within the subconscious. My project endeavors to approach the context of the brick maker’s dilemma in this same spirit, with a ball of clay in hand.

Kiln shortly after firing

The Context



Map Collage of Morogoro

The informal communities in and around Morogoro are living remnants of a mass migration from the rural areas surrounding the Uluguru mountains into the city. This migration did not occur all at once however, but rather in waves corresponding to periods of the city’s growth. The effect is not unlike the cross section of a tree. The inner most ring is the original formal village of Morogoro with platted streets, straight roads, and right angles. This typology will hereafter be referred to as the formal sector. Nestled beside this sector is a conglomeration of shelters built by squatters, without a master plan. The appearances of these two typologies are very different, both in terms of seeing them on a map and in visiting them in person. The contrast between the two creates the first and second ring. The third ring is the continued growth of the formal sector which occurs outside the first ring of the informal sector. Each new sector, be it formal or informal, rings around the last.

Clay Model of Informal and Formal Communities / Overlapping

This phenomenon is similar to the American post WWII suburban boom. An organized sprawl was generated based on a proximity to an established community and then that sprawl generated its own formal sector, or “Main Street.”  The trend continues and suburbia expands.  The success in the American model is the infrastructure. Infrastructure is the root of these communities. The infrastructure precedes the habitation. In this respect, the American typology differs vastly from the informal sectors of Morogoro.

Within the informal communities of Tanzania the infrastructure is either retrofitted or left out entirely.  There are muddy streets with large standing pools of water, piles of refuse and food waste, and crumbling buildings with inadequate roof and wall systems.  Where these communities succeed, however, in the midst of American suburbia’s failure, is the community’s interconnectedness between work, live, and play. It is the realization of the new urban ideal, the parsing apart of daily life into a closely knit community fabric. Small shops and vendors form the outer edge, behind this is a manufacturing area where the vendor or craftsman produces the wares sold in the shop. Behind these layers are neighborhoods with schools, restaurants, bars, and soccer fields. In Morogoro this community fabric is thriving.

Informal Sector in Dar es Salaam


Construction Techniques

The construction within these informal communities is carried out by “fundis,” small unlicensed contractors who obtain their materials locally, the definition of “local” being specific to a neighborhood, as opposed to a city. According to Housing Conditions in Tanzania “Illustrated” published by the Building Research Unit in Dar es Salaam the use of local materials is a necessity based on the high cost of moving these materials around. In most cases, building materials are either taken from or manufactured on the building site.  In the case of sand cement blocks, only the bags of cement would typically be moved to the site. From there, the cement would be mixed with local sand and formed in a space adjacent to construction.

Mud and waddle construction is similar in that the poles would either be taken from trees hewn at the site or brought from nearby, with the mud and rocks used in the construction taken from the ground immediately surrounding the construction.

In Morogoro, the brick sits between Sand Cement and Mud and Waddle in terms of its cost and is the most typical construction material used in the sector. Bricks are cheaper to build with than sand cement and are produced entirely from within these communities, whereas the cement for sand cement blocks must be trucked in from large scale cement factories.

What follows are two videos I took while in Tanzania. The first is a typical mud and waddle dwelling at a spice farm on the island of Zanzibar. The construction technique is very similar to the mountain villages above Morogoro. The second video was taken at larger scaled project constructed from sand cement. At larger construction sites the blocks are made with a pneumatic gas powered machine. At small sites the machines are powered by hand.


Video :Mud and Waddle Construction, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Video : Onsite manufacturing of Sand Cement Blocks

 History of Brick Making in Morogoro


Derelict Catholic Brick Making Factory, Morogoro


Brick making began as an industry in Morogoro in the early 1940’s, when Catholic missionaries started a small scale brick making factory on the bank of a tributary of the Ngerengere River to the south of the Morogoro town center. The Brother-in-law of Dr. Makenya, a professor in Quantity Surveying at the University of Dar es Salaam, took me to the factory in the late afternoon on one of my last days in Morogoro. Though the land is still owned and managed by the Catholic Church, brick making activities have not occurred since the mid seventies when the was factory shut down.

Inside an old Kiln

The abandoned factory is a group of small worn out brick buildings spread out over 25 acres of land sloping down towards the alluvial soil of the Ngerengere. Though most of the roofs of these buildings were stove in, the one nearest the road was being used for a small church gathering as we arrived. One of the men attending the service had helped to build the original factory in the 1940’s and worked there till its closing.   He led us down a narrow path leading by the old kiln towards the brick-forming and pointed out a series of deep and wide pits pocking the landscape. The removal of material, both sand and clay, created these depressions during the process of brick making over the course of 30 years. The proliferation of these pits led to the eventual closing of the factory as all of the available material in the area was mined. Eventually the cost of bringing in material from farther and farther away became too expensive and the factory was forced to close.

The kiln used to fire the factory bricks was a permanent version of the temporary field kilns used today. It consisted of an enclosure in the shape of an L made of thick walls. This was covered by a high roof of heavy wood timbers and a clay tiled roof. The bricks would have been loading into the interior of the L and covered over the top with a thick layer of mud to keep the fire from burning the roof. Burning ports, or small tunnels were built into the base of the permanent walls for the purpose of feeding wooden logs into the kiln.

As the factory was closed the catholic missionaries taught small groups of local citizens the process of making bricks through the use of field kilns as opposed to a larger scaled factory. That tradition of brick making continues within the municipality to this day. The method taught by the  missionaries has been passed down and according to Katundo Kalyango, the Municipal Natural Resource Officer for the Morogoro Municipality employs over 1000 brick makers.

Brick Making Site in Morogoro

Brick Making Site near new construction on the edge of the city

Boys in Keebwa Village learning how to make bricks

The current method of brick making requires several specific conditions both in the natural and the civic environment. The primary conditions required for brick making activities in the natural environment is a soil containing both clay and sand, as both are necessary to achieve a mixture consistent with strong durable bricks. The other primary requirement is water.  The clay and sand must be mixed into a slurry before being formed and dried on level ground.

As the current method of firing bricks requires the use of logs as a fuel source, the site must also have access to either a stand of trees which may be cut down for use as fuel or a road where logs may be dropped off by truck for use in firing.  A road is also required if the site for brick making is other than a site where new building is currently taking place. In this case the brick maker will sell their bricks to contractors who will load trucks with bricks for use in buildings elsewhere.

Since brick making is an unregulated industry in Morogoro, the brick makers have also had to operate in the informal communities. Up until recently the Municipal Authority had not protested, letting the brick makers alone. A new focus on the sustainable expansion of the city, however, encouraged by various international organizations, has shifted their focus to the process of brick making and the negative effects it can produce for both the natural and the urban environment.

Discovery of a Conflict

Hafida Msindi, a “bush lawyer” arguing for the rights of Brick Makers


Current brick making activities within the Morogoro Municipality occur at 6 main sites, all situated along the banks or tributaries of the Ngerengere River in informal communities.  At one of these sites I met Hafida Msindi, a brick maker in the Kwa Mchunma site for 32 years. He stated that in 2004 brick makers at all 6 sites were ordered to stop making bricks immediately and to move out of the areas where they had been operating.

According to Msindi it was no longer legal to make bricks within the boundary of the municipality. Refusing give up their livelihood, the brick makers went to court, being represented by a “bush lawyer,” a member of the brick making community who is chosen to represent the brick makers in lieu of a lawyer. The result of this case was the temporary suspension of the order. Since then SUMO (Sustainable Morogoro Programme) sponsored by the Danish Government and the Morogoro Municipal Authority have taken steps to prepare a legal site for brick making within the municipality.

Msindi stated, however, that the proposed site was over 40 kilometers away from the city center on land owned by the Masai and that the soil was not suitable and there was no water. He continued by explaining that the Masai and the brick makers have a contentious relationship because of the pits left behind by the process of brick making. In the past, the Masai’s cattle have fallen into the pits and become injured.

The Expanding City

The sites of current brickmaking activities are located primarily in informal communities,  existing on non-platted land comprised of squatter’s dwellings. While many of these communities are an integral part of the urban fabric of Morogoro, the lack of title or ownership gives those living there little legal recourse in defying orders of eviction.  Apparent on maps of the Morogoro Municipality prepared by the Ministry of Maps in Dar es Salaam, are areas where land is being either platted beneath the formal communities or the informal communities are migrating over land already platted. Either way it is clear that within the municipal boundaries the formal and the informal communities are beginning to collide.

Despite these collisions, the informal communities as a whole have not been targeted by the Municiple Authority for eviction, though the lack of ownership of the land is cited as a reason, the brickmakers have no cause to protest the decision of the Municiple Authority to remove the brickmakers. These seeming inequities have greatly affected the relationship between the Municipal Authority and the brickmakers according to the bush lawer Msindi, further hindering a resolution to the conflict.

The Morogoro Municipality’s Point of View

The governing body of the Morogoro Municipality is housed in a building sharing space with the Sustainable Morogoro Programme (SUMO), an organization which receives funding from Danida, a Danish governmental organization. The aim of SUMO is to address sustainable issues within the boundary of the Municipality. Sumo addresses these issues by drafting policies which are implemented by the Municipal Authority.  After meeting Hafida Msindi and learning about the current plight of the brick makers, I set up a meeting with Katundo Kalyango of SUMO to explain the posisiton of the Municipality.

During the meeting Kalyango gave me a copy of a Preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment (PEIA) Report for the “Kingolwira Legal Site for Burnt Brick Making Project” issued in Febuary 2008. According to Kalyango who is the Municipal Natural Resource Officer, this report is required to assess the environmental impact of a proposed project to a specific site. It also, however, gives a detailed account of the reasons this project was undertaken.

•    Removal of top soils and clays which leaves the land unfit for agriculture

•   The creation of low swampy areas of stagnant water which serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes and increase the risk of contracting malaria.

•    The silting and pollution of the rivers which both destabilizes the banks of the river as well increase the risk of transferring waterborne diseases to communities existing downstream from brickmaking activities.

•    Accidents related to the throwing of bricks during the process of kiln making and kiln disassembling.

•    Removal of trees for fuel, leading to deforestation.

•   Air pollution caused both by the firing of the kilns and by the dust thrown by the bricks during loading and unloading, leading to health problems among the brickmakers. 

This next section is an intensive study of the brick making process conducted in the field for the purpose of both understanding and documenting the current technique as well as investigating the root causes of the brick makers imminent removal from the city to provide alternative solutions.