“The community needs to be educated about how to monitor climatic circumstances and how to utilise local materials to an optimum. Only people who take part in building processes can maintain and spread the word about these developments,” are the words of Diébédo Francis Kéré who designs a school at Gando, West Africa that offers an interactive learning platform increasing the awareness of the community at different levels.
Most schools you would have visited must have looked like a cross between a bank and a prison. Hardly surprising, because they are often the by-product of an outlook that equates education with book learning, convertible into future salary slips, and treat children as potential subversives who have to be drilled into a socially desirable behavior. These schools hardly offer an opportunity for expression.
On a very fundamental basis, a school is most likely to shoulder the responsibility of diagnosing each child’s strength and weakness, thereby enhancing the plus points for the development of a strong personality. It is nowadays more about expanding the mutual awareness through communication.
For such a system, learning cannot occur through the orchestrated interaction between the teacher and students inside the restricted classroom but at all levels of experience, primarily through the child’s rational construction derived from his direct interaction with his environment. Resultantly, architecture here plays a crucial role of providing an environment conducive to the newer ideology.
The winner of the ‘Regional Holcim Award Gold Africa and Middle East 2011’ and ‘Global Holcim Award Gold 2012’ is a school at Gando, Burkina Faso, West Africa. It is designed by Diébédo Francis Kéré, an architect from Burkina Faso who studied at the Technische Universität Berlin. The clients of this project were the village community of Gando in cooperation with ‘Schulbausteine fuer Gando’.
The site is exposed to extreme climatic conditions with a heavy rainy season and a very strong sun exposure. Thereby, the structure had to be designed to resist the heat and rain erosion while offering a cool inside. The classrooms are disposed in a circle and this creates a protected courtyard, keeping the dusty and hot Eastern wind from flowing in. The structure is open on its West side, allowing for a cool breeze to enter the area most of the time.
Kéré’s learning from Germany about building techniques and his sensitivity towards traditional methods leads to a new definition of sustainable architecture for his projects. He adjusts modern technologies to suit local materials, skills and requirements. The project’s emphasis was set on the usage of local materials, the adaptation of new technology in a simple way and the exploration of the potential of the local community.
Kéré strongly believes that the use of local potential, both material and labour, guarantees a long-term involvement in the projects. The villagers’ participation and the transfer of knowledge between the trained workers and the community is an essential point motivating the inhabitants of Gando towards a sustainable development of their future without any external aid.
Sustainable architecture strongly advocates the right choice of materials which will address the criteria of local availability and cost efficiency. Hereby the local, cheap and abundantly available material being earth, use of clay bricks is totally justified. Traditionally, the clay bricks were formed by hand in wooden frames. To make the clay bricks for the school more stable, Kéré introduced a simple machine, powered by nothing but two people, forming the bricks in a mold and pressing them.
The floors of the classrooms are made of rammed earth stabilised by cement. The shutters and doors are made of steel, using a technology familiar to local workers. The library´s building materials are mainly compressed earth blocks while the ceiling construction and geometry are fairly different from the rest. Here Kéré has explored a concrete ceiling where traditional clay pots are embedded in the structure to ensure natural light and ventilation.
An innovative air-cooling system that uses only natural ventilation has been specially developed for this particular project. There are earth-pipes placed underneath the building. These transport the outside air which is cooled by water directly into the rooms through the holes in the floor. The warmed-up air escapes from the classrooms through small openings in the clay ceilings. This natural ventilation is enhanced by planted vegetation and the use of double-skin roofs and façades to achieve a 5°C thermal reduction. The improved indoor climate and comfort are highly conducive to ensure a peaceful and educative environment.
To Kéré, education is the foundation for every social, technical and economic development. As an architect he defines himself as “a bridge between cultures, between the technically and economically developed countries of the north and the less developed African countries of the south.”
Text By Kruti Choksi
Photographs Courtesy Diébédo Francis Kéré