Text description provided by the architects. Ten young students of architecture joined Orkidstudio this summer to build a 350 square metre facility in just 7 weeks and for only £100/m2 in the rural outskirts of Zambia’s industrial Copperbelt.
Orkidstudio is a humanitarian design organisation, founded in 2008 by three students of architecture, whose aim is to benefit children and communities worldwide through innovative and creative architecture and design. With projects completed in Uganda, Bolivia and Zambia, the studio is driven by a strong focus on architecture as a catalyst for change which empowers and instils pride within a community through an inclusive, collaboratively-led design process and live build programme. Having previously built a chicken shed in Easter 2012 as a community business endeavour for The Mutende Children’s Village, this phase sought to aid the development of the Mutende’s Harold Mwenge Memorial Academy on a site adjacent to the orphanage. The Mutende offer opportunities for orphans and abandoned children to be cared for in a loving, family environment, whilst the school provides education to many more of the local children.
With a call for volunteers launched almost a year before work started on site, ten applicants were selected from architecture schools across the UK. Led by Orkidstudio, this team designed a community hall capable of being sub-divided into three classrooms, an IT suite, office and supply room. These new facilities have almost doubled the existing study space and enable the school to provide education for significantly more children in the area.
With a simply L-shaped classroom block already on the site, the new structure mimics the existing roof pitch at the rear of the site before cascading forwards below a variably-pitched concertinaed canopy. Designed to give the impression of a single foil sheet folding out towards the entrance, the roof cantilevers out and welcomes visitors into the shaded space below.
Given the extremely tight build schedule of just seven weeks, the design allowed for multiple trades to operate on site at once. Instead of a concrete slab foundation, the timber structure sits on large reinforced concrete pads. Fired mud-brick walls wrap around the structure like a skin, dividing spaces accordingly. Components of the building such as this sit off the primary structure, bearing no structural loads, and therefore capable of operating on a more flexible schedule within the full programme of works.
In an effort to counteract degradation due to termite infestation, the timber structure is set off the foundation pads and a clear 800mm above floor level. Working closely with innovative engineering firm, StructureMode, this ambitious self-build was designed with reduced structural sizes and specifications which worked with the irregularities of African products and manufacturing, without compromising the internal spaces.
Working throughout term time, the Orkidstudio team were able to engage with the children, teachers and local community to discuss their vision for the school and changes were made throughout in order to provide spaces which responded to the daily life of the school. The form of the new structure creates a new courtyard space at the heart of the school. To celebrate this space and the transition into the large covered canopy of the new build, the perimeter masonry footing rises up around the column bases to craft informal seating at both child and adult heights. Large graphic lettering and numbers playfully identify each classroom and large gutter trays extend into the courtyard creating water collection points below and housing electrical service cores within the channels below.
After finishing the project, volunteer and architecture student, Frazer Haviz, commented: ‘The chance to design and build something of social and architectural value, seeing it grow from talks to sketches to drawings and finally to a resolved building is something truly incredible. It is not every day the opportunity arises to be part of such a unique experience as this and it was an immense privilege to be a part of the Mutende Project II’.
Orkidstudio is now focusing on projects in Sierra Leone and Kenya, with applications to be a part of both currently open at www.orkidstudio.co.uk/volunteer. Additionally, the organisation is involved with a project in Ghana which is being run by the Mackintosh School of Architecture (Glasgow School of Art) where Orkidstudio Director, James Mitchell, is a lecturer and tutor in humanitarian architecture.