We’ve built you a better ArchDaily. Learn more and let us know what you think. Send us your feedback »

7 Architects Designing a Diverse Future in Africa

As the legacy of the Cold War fades and Western preeminence gradually becomes a thing of the past, population booms in Asia followed by the growth of a vast non-western middle class have seriously challenged the Western perception of the world. The East has become the focal point of the world’s development.

If East Asia is the present focal point of this development, the future indisputably lies in Africa. Long featuring in the Western consciousness only as a land of unending suffering, it is now a place of rapidly falling poverty, increasing investment, and young populations. It seems only fair that Africa’s rich cultures and growing population (predicted to reach 1.4 billion by 2025) finally take the stage, but it’s crucially important that Africa’s future development is done right. Subject to colonialism for centuries, development in the past was characterized by systems that were designed for the benefit of the colonists. Even recently, resource and energy heavy concrete buildings, clothes donations that damage native textile industries, and reforestation programs that plant water hungry and overly flammable trees have all been seen, leaving NGOs open to accusations of well-meaning ignorance.

Fortunately, a growth in native practices and a more sensible, sensitive approach from foreign organizations has led to the rise of architectural groups creating buildings which learn from and improve Africa. Combining local solutions with the most appropriate Western ideas, for the first time these new developments break down the perception of monolithic Africa and have begun engaging with individual cultures; using elements of non-local architecture when they improve a development rather than creating a pastiche of an imagined pan-African culture. The visions these groups articulate are by no means the same - sustainable rural development, high end luxury residences and dignified civic constructions all feature - but they have in common their argument for a bright future across Africa. We’ve collected seven pioneers of Africa’s architectural awakening - read on after the break for the full article and infographic.

Pretoria's Freedom Park, designed by MMA Design Studio with GAPP Architects and MRA Architects. Image Courtesy of MMA Design Studio, GAPP Architects and MRA Architects The Makoko Floating School in Lagos, Nigeria. Image © NLÉ Architects Butaro Hospital in Rwanda. Image © Iwan Baan Red Pepper House in Lamu, Kenya. Image © Alberto Heras

TED Talk: How MASS Design Group Gave the Word "Architecture" a Meaning in Rwanda

In one of the eight talks that make up the TED Prize-winning City2.0, MASS Design Group Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Alan Ricks explains how MASS designed and built the Butaro Hospital in Rwanda, in 2008 when "there wasn't even a word for 'architect'" in Kinyarwanda, the national language. Now thanks in part to their work, and the commitment of the many MASS Design Fellows in the area, Rwanda has a more formalized market for architectural services and even a new architecture program at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology.

Pre-primary School / Asa studio

Courtesy of Asa studio Courtesy of Asa studio Courtesy of Asa studio Courtesy of Asa studio

Support GA Collaborative's Earthbag Projects in Rwanda: Building Community Through Creative Construction

Following the success of their first Masoro Village Project house, the non-profit design group GA Collaborative (GAC) has released a video and crowdfunding campaign for their latest prototype in Rwanda. Like the previous GAC project, the first of its kind in Rwanda, it too will be built of earthbags, providing the crew further experience with a low-cost and durable construction technique. 

This building, a two-story structure for shared kitchen and toilet facilities, will be constructed this summer by the newly-formed builders' cooperative Association Icyerekezo ("New Vision"). Donations to the project will help towards additional material tests, equipment rentals, wages for fifty workers and four student interns ($2.00/day/person), site infrastructure, and travel and temporary accommodation for one GAC member. For even more incentive to donate, the designers have paired up with StitchWorks, who are offering a series of bold textiles inspired by African fabric designs to donors.

Learn more in the video above, and support the Masoro Project here (more images after the break).

Masoro Village Project / GA Collaborative

The construction of a small single-family home twenty kilometers north of Kigali, Rwanda is now complete. The building is demure: three small bedrooms, a modest living room, and a space for cooking. Poor material availability and financial limitations meant that practicality was its primary design muse. The house is the prototype for a series of homes that the designers, GA Collaborative, will build in Masoro for members of the women’s cooperative l’Association Dushyigikirane. With the project’s uncommon building method—earthbag construction, the first of its kind in Rwanda—GA Collaborative intends to empower its clients with knowledge of an inexpensive and speedy construction technique that requires little training and no prior construction experience. 

Women's Opportunity Center in Rwanda / Sharon Davis Design

Women for Women International (WfWI) is a global NGO that has supported the construction of the Women's Opportunity Center, to be opened shortly, in Kayonza Rwanda.  The Center, design by Sharon Davis Design, is an environmentally friendly, multi-use facility that will become a support mechanism for the education of women and the support and advancement of the community in the region.   The WOC is an element of WfWI's mission to address poverty and the effects of genocide through education and self-empowerment.  The facility is part community gathering space, part education center where women can attain job training and learn new skills, and use services to find employment or start their own businesses.

SEEDoc: Nyanza Maternity Hospital / MASS Design Group

Since June, we've been reporting on the Design Corps and SEED (Social Economic Environmental Design)'s, SEEDocs, a series of mini-documentaries that highlight the stories of award-winning public interest design projects. As each mini-doc has been an excellent, inspiring exploration of the challenges and benefits of community-oriented design, we are pleased (and not a little sad!) to announce that the final seed-doc has just been released.This month's mini-doc, probably the series' best, focuses on the Nyanza Maternity Hospital, designed by MASS Design Group. MASS of course garnered much attention for their Butaro Hospital, also in Rwanda (for an interesting inside-look at the construction of Butaro, read this excellent article by MASS co-founder Marika Shiori-Clark). Should this hospital be funded and realized, it will no doubt make more headlines for the innovative public-interest design firm. Read more about MASS Design Group's lastest project in Rwanda, after the break...Part of what sets MASS Design Group apart is their receptive, "open slate" approach to projects. As Sierra Bainbridge, Director of Implementation at MASS, explains in the doc: "we don't come in with any ideas, at all, about what's going to happen - just a very very long list of questions. We can only build a very good building if we check in and understand, every step of the way, that we are understanding the clients the way that they intend for their needs to be understood."Of course, as Ms. Bainbridge points out in the doc, sometimes the clients themselves - the nurses, doctors, and patients who use the facility - don't even know how their needs could be better met, since they have gotten so used to their current, sub-par facility, a dilapidated structure built in 1931. This is where the experience of the architect comes in. With one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world, Rwanda loses over 40,000 infants, toddlers, and mothers each year; deaths that, in about 50% of cases, could have been prevented with improved hospital care. MASS Design has isolated one of the major factors in these preventable deaths: poor air circulation. When patients sit in crowded, stuffed hallways-come-waiting rooms, disease spreads rapidly. The very buildings that were designed to heal, actually kill. And so, the crowning features of MASS's design for the Nyanza Maternity hospital are solar chimneys – "a new ventilation concept that pulls fresh air up throughout the building, dramatically reducing the potential spread of disease." With the design completed, now the project only lacks donor funding to come to fruition. Please share the video, and the word, about this extraordinary project - we'll be waiting to publish it on ArchDaily once it's built. Did you miss the other SEEDocs? See them all: 

  • Maria Auxiliadora School - On August 15th, 2007 a powerful earthquake hit the region of Ica, Perú, destroying the small Maria Auxiliadora School. The first responders left after a matter of months, but the damage remained. With help from Architecture for Humanity Design Fellow, Diego Collazo, the community decided to take the school’s – and their children’s – future into their own hands.  
  • Escuela Ecológica- In this school in Lima, Peru, students learn in small, dark rooms and play in the dirt. The community desperately wanted a park where the children could play and a school where they could comfortably learn. With the help of a local architect and a group of professors and students from the University of Washington, the community is making those dreams a reality. 
  • Bancroft School Revitilization - In Manheim Park, a low-income, neglected neighborhood in Kansas City, Missouri,there was an abandoned, abestos-ridden school that no one used - until residents approached BNIM Architects with the idea of turning it into a revitalized community center. With the help of the Make It Right Foundation, BNIM collaborated with the neighborhood to design a multi-use center with affordable housing units, a health clinic, and public gathering space. 
  • The Grow Dat Youth Farm - A brilliant example of “Urban Agri-puncture” (a strategy that uses design & Urban Agriculture to target a city’s most deprived, unhealthy neighborhoods), changing the lives of New Orleans youth. Central to the farm’s development has been the creation of a campus, designed and constructed by students enrolled at the Tulane City Center, who turned an abandoned golf course to an energy-efficient, organic farm sensitive to regional climate.

How to Balance Local Traditions and New Solutions in Public-Interest Design

Butaro Hospital by MASS Design Group. Image © Iwan Baan.
Butaro Hospital by MASS Design Group. Image © Iwan Baan.

Marika Shioiri-Clark is an architect who uses design to empower global change and battle inequality. While attending Harvard for her Masters in Architecture, she co-founded the non-profit MASS Design Group and began working on what would become the the Butaro Hospital in Rwanda. In this article, which originally appeared on GOOD as "Building a Rwandan Wall", she explains the process by which the hospital was built and defends claims that the project, led by a group of Western architects, was somehow colonialist in nature. 

As she puts it: "In a place like Rwanda, it’s not neo-colonialist to work on high-quality design projects as long as you’re deeply and authentically engaged with the community. In today’s world, it’s more neo-colonialist to assume that African people don't want well-designed buildings and spaces."

Read about Ms. Shiori-Clark's experiences, and the delicate balance that must be struck between local knowledge and innovative techniques, after the break...

Kimisagara Football for Hope Centre / AFO with Architecture for Humanity

Courtesy of grassodenridder_architecten
Courtesy of grassodenridder_architecten

Architects: Architectural Field Office with Architecture for Humanity Location: Kimisagara, Kigali, Rwanda Project Year: 2009 Project Area: 200.0 sqm Photographs: Killian Doherty

Bumbogo Project / Guillaume Sardin

Africa is currently building its urban culture, in a global context of clusterized cities, of insularized space. Urbanism shouldn’t be just about numbers. Although Africa is currently strongly lacking infrastructure, its needs cannot always be quantified. Urbanism should reflect culture, history and create a sense of belonging. Guillaume Sardin‘s Bumbogo Project in Kigali, Rwanda, which won second place in a competition, will be a manifest, a pragmatic utopia. By using the meaning of Rwanda and Kigali as a matrix, this project generates an ultra site-specific master plan setting an example of fair urbanism. More images and architects’ description after the break.

In Progress: Women's Opportunity Center / Sharon Davis Design

© Sharon Davis Design
© Sharon Davis Design

Sharon Davis Design was recently awarded 2nd place among all categories of Future Projects at the World Architectural Festival; in their subcategory, Future Projects: Education, they placed first. The New York City design firm competed against over 70 shortlisted projects to achieve this international distinction for their Women’s Opportunity Center in Kayonza, Rwanda. Women for Women International, a Washington, DC based non-profit which seeks to empower female survivors of war and genocide commissioned the firm to build an educational campus in rural Rwanda in late 2008. Construction on the two-acre site began this summer. More images and project description after the break.

Video: Football for Hope

Architecture for Humanity’s Kimisagra Football for Hope Center in Kigali, Rwanda has broken ground. This video by Killian Doherty and music by Sophie Nzayisenga features the site location, renderings, and most importantly the communities excitement for the new center.

Pediatric Clinic / 4of7 Architecture

4of7 Architecture‘s competition proposal for a pediatric clinic in East Africa is a modular configuration that will expand to accommodate more people when necessary.   The proposal was an entry for the “Design for the Children“ competition which asks designers from around the world to develop a sustainable, culturally responsive, pediatric clinic model for Rwanda.  This modular configuration is a “spatial solution” that will connect a major network of health care.

More about the project and more images after the break.

Children's Hospital Prototype / Visiondivision

Visiondivision, an international young practice, shared with us their competition entry for a children’s hospital prototype for Rwanda.  The competition, entitled “Design for the Children”, asks architects and designers to develop a sustainable, culturally responsive, pediatric clinic model for East Africa.  

More images and further project description after the break.