Design: ASA Design Ltd – Active Social Architecture
Partner architects: Alice Tasca, Francesco Stassi, Zeno Riondato; design fellows: Eric Kayijuka Mutabazi, Christian Karagire, Secil Taskoparan
Collaboration: Dr. Tomà Berlanda, Dr. Nerea Amoros Elorduy, Arch. Michelle Stadelman
Photo credits: ASA Design Ltd – Active Social Architecture
The implementation of ECD (Early Childhood Development) centres is one of Rwanda Government’s flagship projects to improve education and invest in a sustainable future development of the Country. Result of an holistic approach to architectural interventions, our design focuses on the community participatory approach and the added educational value of design, to hopefully catalyse social change and poverty reduction. The design and built prototypes of Early Childhood Development & Family Centers have been tested and implemented at national level for a total of 15 facilities built in remote rural areas. Each prototype is carefully integrated with the physical and cultural landscape of the Country, it is thought of as material and systemic ecosystems balancing the relationship between communities and their surroundings. The particular nature of the project gave us the opportunity to test its replicability and adaptability to varying topographic constraints, scarce and limited material resources, and different set of skills among the communities. Workshops have been organized to understand the most important themes in local village life, which have become the principal design items. The conceptual approach to the design rests on two pillars: it highlights the role of a central space as catalyst for community gathering, in a contemporary reinterpretation of the traditional “urugo” settlement pattern; and it conceives a modular structure, where components can adapt to different terrains and situations, but originate always similar facilities, organized around the central space. Two main typologies are being tested throughout the ongoing construction: a circular plan and a S-shaped plan. Ideally the outcome of different aggregation of the modules, they are the result of the adaptation to varying topographies and plots. All have required adjustments and changes during the construction process, in an effort to source locally available materials and transport them to difficult and remote site locations, together with the challenge of reacting to different climatic and geological conditions, such as soil types and heavy rainfall. The centers consist of five different basic elements: stimulation classrooms; multipurpose hall; open demonstration kitchen; offices block; sanitation facilities They are small reinforced masonry structures, built with locally produced fired bricks, assembled with Flemish bonds and vertical reinforcement bars, to improve stability and avoid the use of concrete. The brick pattern and the multiple openings of varying size, placed at different heights contribute to the sensory stimulation and the learning of small children, while providing natural lighting and cross ventilation. A continuous porch, covered in ceramic tiles, allows for a variety of covered outdoor spaces, for both learning and communal activities. The whole compound is fenced, and includes a dedicated area for playgrounds and kitchen gardens, and has a underground tank for rainwater harvesting. Community members and children’s parents are educated in construction, administration and management through the design and build process. At least 50% of the workforce is composed of women in order to fight gender discrimination. Design that educates communities and parents proved to catalyse social change: newly trained masons, carpenters and welders find better job opportunities, while children receive better care and nutrition at home. Stimulation by design is our focus, especially due to the tight costs constraints that push us to use any little details to improve the child learning experience and the caregivers tasks. Design that improves education catalyse social change: children’s brain between 0 and 6 is highly stimulated by the environment and its healthy development makes children more successful adults. Moreover, more stimulated, better nourished and healthier children have longer study perspectives, that eventually allow them to access better job opportunities.