Good design should be available to everyone, regardless of their age, race, or income. Despite recent international and national development efforts in countries throughout Africa have promoted children’s education and nutrition as a fundamental key to help communities overcome poverty, improve their lives and change their future, mobilizing local governments to build safe, healthy, affordable and environmentally sound educational institutions for children and their communities, has proven difficult at best. Gobezay’s primary school in Tigray, Ethiopia, is one example of many dangerous and failing school facilities across the globe where designers are not typically involved. With overcrowding, unsafe building conditions and limited funds, design has acquired the label of “luxury” and something that such a community cannot afford. Looking at the work carried out in schools by large NGOs, governments or aid agencies investing and promoting child- oriented infrastructures, very rarely is there consideration for architectural quality or innovative design of the built environment with a focus on child stimulation. ASA Studio and the NGO Africa Nos Mira have partnered up to design and build these new facilities for an existing primary school in big need. ASA was able to donate time and skills to help propose a solution for the primary school facility in Tigray and its grounds. The design approach focuses on the use of local and sustainable building materials and techniques to maximize the budget and resources of the community creating a replicable prototype for the future of schools in the area. While considering existing conditions, cost-effective solutions, flexibility and future growth and expansion, the design provides safe and useful solutions to many of their existing hurdles. The outcome will result in providing the future generation of leaders in Ethiopia with the “luxury” they rightly deserve.
AFRICA NOS MIRA (ANM) was founded by a group of young professionals in 2006 with the mission of improving the primary education in Northern Ethiopia. In partnering with ASA Studio, the NGO has been able to better address its goal to raise the quality of education in Tigray and Afar Zone 2, which is utterly essential to the development of the country. Currently, ANM is carrying out various projects to improve educational infrastructure in the region as well as it water accessibility. The necessary funds for these projects are covered by grants from different public and private entities. Together with their Ethiopian partner, the Adigrat Diocesan Catholic Secretariat (ADCS), ANM has already developed 5 projects for primary schools upgrading, mostly for classroom construction and water accessibility (roof catchment or hand dug wells). Gobezay will be the sixth institution to receive the full support program.
The selected areas for the school upgrades are ones of the drought prone, semi-arid areas in the Tigray region, which also feature a mountainous and difficult terrain. The agriculture depends from the rain and the average land size per household is less than 0.25 hectare. This, together with the little farming, makes people dependent on external employment and international help. Hence many communities struggle to construct primary schools for their children only on their own, but with the support from ANM & ADCS they will have an opportunity to change their future.
You don’t have a house, if you don’t have a roof. A house begins with a roof.[...] what you need to built to have a house, is a roof. A roof protects you from the sun, from the rain: it is like an umbrella.[...] Yona Friedman in “roofs, local materials, simple technology, sophisticated ideas” (1992) Basic needs are not being met in many of the Tigray region’s schools. To meet development goals, the educational facilities must be upgraded to provide basic needs. Architecture can offer the solution to improve facilities providing safe, healthy, affordable and environmentally sound educational facilities. Innovation, cost effectiveness and sustainability are the key elements for these projects. The needs and requirements for effective and child-friendly schools are important factors in the improvement of education and stimulation of the children. In order to raise the standards of education, there must be an understanding of the current situations for the schools to be served, the overall scenario within the region and country. Based on the specific location given, the design and construction of Gobezay’s school upgrade takes into account a set of goals to aim for a replicable prototype and can serve as a benchmark for the quality necessary for a facility and a program that will increase the level of education for the community it serves. The project focuses on environmentally conscious and climate sensitive solutions for the prototype.
Due to the lack of schooling facilities in the region, most of the schools have major issues of overcrowding and have taken to building additional classrooms attached to the existing ones or under trees on their plots. Each school currently expands with 4-7 additional or “informal” classrooms during the schooling time of the year. These shelters are often pieced together with brush, sticks, and scraps of building materials available within in the area. They are dark, crowded, hot, low, small and dangerous spaces for both students and teachers, that have to be protected against the weather and animals, and they are destroyed and rebuild every new term. This is one of the primary needs for schools, together with the water accessibility. The proposed solution takes the scale of the existing building and classroom size into account but further optimizes the space to include a flexible space: the side and front porches. The overhang of the roof allows for the extension and addition of alternative classrooms and the further expansion of the school as needed and funds become available. With the provision of a roof and structural framework, the project proposes a safer space for additional classrooms to happen. During the holidays time this space can also be used for parental and community meetings. The framework is the generator of a critical piece, the roof, that will allow for higher ceilings and bigger spaces for the ‘informal” classes to come. This affordable method will improve the school greatly and can eventually become a “formal” classroom when fund are available.
The innovative design of the roof uses traditional and local materials reducing costs for construction and promoting replication of sustainable building techniques within the community. The roof helps to reduce thermal heat gain and keeps the classroom environment cooler and more comfortable for the students and teachers; it prevents from the strong noise provoked by the rain and it allows the water catchment of water through a pre- filtering process. This design is inspired by the existing vernacular construction, and adds a couple of elements to produce the water filtering and ensure durability of the infrastructure. Arranging classrooms to receive natural light, without direct sunlight and heat gain through entrance porch and the back wall’s arrangement of concrete and earth bocks, improves the quality of the learning spaces and will help raise the level of education eliminating distractions and unfavourable conditions. This cost effective solution requires low maintenance, which will ensure a better use and more durability of the project.
The design encourages engagement of the children through small scale elements while integrating function, structure, details, and the needs of students and their communities in the region. Clever use of space, with thought paid to conducive and comfortable spaces for the education of the children and caregivers is key to the success of the schools and their use. Through research and response to unique aspects of the design of the centre for children, considerations of contextual and environmental factors are present in the proposed prototype design, engaging the children’s stimulations. Important focus has been given to the building techniques and materials used mainly in the roofs, structure, walls, and openings, to acknowledge the context, which includes the playground and sheltered areas for external study times. The key to this approach is to design a facility that can be replicated and adapted by each community based on their needs. From an ecological standpoint, the encouragement to employ sustainable design in all aspects of the design and a holistic approach to the project is present. The school will serve as an example of successful and intelligent material selection, building techniques and innovation for the community. Utilizing locally sourced materials, local resources and cost effective solutions can greatly impact the other constructions in the area serving as a precedent for future buildings. Even with material and cost constraints, good design can be, and in fact is, aesthetically appealing.