The Women’s Opportunity Center (WOC), designed in collaboration with Women for Women International, occupies a two-hectare site one hour from the Rwandan capital and has been developed with the following objectives in mind: to empower its community, create economic opportunity, and rebuild social infrastructure.
Referencing a Rwandan village as our organizing principle, we clustered human-scaled pavilions to create security and cultivate the sense of community. Facilities include class rooms, guest lodgings, a demonstration farm – cooled by green roof and retained earth walls – and a marketplace, where women sell products they have made on site. As well as designing innovative buildings that allow passive cooling and solar shading, we established local partnerships to create water purification, biogas, and other sustainable systems that can be maintained by the sites inhabitants. Hygienic composting toilets replaced the more traditional pit-latrines, reducing water use while capturing nitrogen-rich waste.
The 450,000 clay bricks needed for the construction were made at the center by local women, using a durable manual press method which we adapted from local building techniques. As a result, women have learned marketable, income-generating skills and are now being hired as masons in the area. The demonstration farm, a Commercial Integrated Farming Initiative, teaches women to produce income from the land, such as: raising livestock, storing and processing food.
A further and integral objective of WOC was to involve as many stakeholders as possible, with recognition of the value of partnerships and community-based knowledge, especially within a region where resources are scarce and access to materials/tools/equipment and infrastructure is limited. Community-based design and planning initiatives that involved stakeholders were integral to identifying challenges, priorities - and proposing best solutions - resulting in a project, that mutually benefits client, community, and designer.