Local Material Consultancy: BC studies
Community Participation And Organisation: BC Studies and ODEDIM Muyinga
Cooperation: ODEDIM Muyinga NGO, Satimo Vzw, Sint-Lucas Architecture University, Sarolta Hüttl, Sebastiaan De Beir, Hanne Eckelmans
Financial Support: Satimo Vzw, Rotary Aalst, Zonta Brugge, Province Of West-Flanders
Budget: 40 000 €
Text description provided by the architects. The first library of Muyinga, part of a future inclusive school for deaf children, in locally sourced compressed earth blocks, built with a participatory approach. Our work in Africa started within the framework of OpenStructures.net. BC was asked to scale the "Open structures" model to an architectural level. A construction process involving end-users and second-hand economies was conceived. Product life cycles, water resource cycles en energy cycles were connected to this construction process. This OpenStructures architectural model was called Case Study (CS) 1: Katanga, Congo. It was theoretical and fully research-based. 5 years later, the library of Muyinga in Burundi nears completion.
Vernacular inspirations. A thorough study of vernacular architectural practices in Burundi was the basis of the design of the building. Two months of fieldwork in the region and surrounding provinces gave us insight into the local materials, techniques and building typologies. These findings were applied, updated, reinterpreted and framed within the local know-how and traditions of Muyinga. The library is organized along with a longitudinal covered circulation space. This “hallway porch” is a space often encountered within the Burundian traditional housing as it provides a shelter from heavy rains and harsh sun. Life happens mostly in this hallway porch; encounters, resting, conversation, waiting - it is a truly social space, constitutive for community relations. This hallway porch is deliberately oversized to become the extent of the library. Transparent doors between the columns create the interaction between inside space and porch. Fully opened, these doors make the library open up towards the adjacent square with breathtaking views over Burundi’s “milles collines” (1000 hills).
On the longitudinal end, the hallway porch flows onto the street, where blinders control access. These blinders are an important architectural element of the street facade, showing clearly when the library is open or closed. On the other end, the hallway porch will continue as the main circulation and access space for the future school. A very important element in Burundian (and, generally, African) architecture is the very present demarcation of property lines. It is a tradition that goes back to tribal practices of compounding family settlements. For the library of Muyinga, the compound wall was considered in a co-design process with the community and the local NGO. The wall facilitates the terracing of the slope as a retaining wall in dry stone technique, low on the squares and playground of the school side, high on the street side. Thus, the view towards the valley is uncompromised, while safety from the street side is guaranteed.
The general form of the library is the result of structural logic, derived on one hand from the material choice (Compressed Earth Blocks masonry and baked clay roof tiles). The locally produced roof tiles were considerably more heavy than imported corrugated iron sheets. This inspired the structural system of closely spaced columns at 1m30 intervals, which also act as buttresses for the high walls of the library. This rhythmic repetition of columns is a recognizable feature of the building, on the outside as well as on the inside. The roof has a slope of 35% with an overhang to protect the unbaked CEB blocks and contributes to the architecture of the library.
Climatic considerations inspired the volume and facade: a high interior with continuous cross-ventilation helps to guide the humid and hot air away. Hence, the façade is perforated according to the rhythm of the Compressed Earth Blocks (CEB) masonry, giving the library its luminous sight in the evening. The double room height at the street side gave the possibility to create a special space for the smallest of the library readers. This children’s space consists of a wooden sitting corner on the ground floor, which might facilitate cozy class readings. It is topped by an enormous hammock of sisal rope as a mezzanine, in which the children can dream away with the books that they are reading. The future school will continue to swing intelligently through the landscape of the site, creating playgrounds and courtyards to accommodate existing slopes and trees. In the meanwhile, the library will work as an autonomous building with a finished design.
A Community Project - Social reintegration: reconnecting the deaf and blind community to broader society. In a very informal and oral Burundian culture, deaf children are excluded from stories, information, exchange, education. Often, deaf children are isolated, or even expelled from a certain group of people. The library of Muyinga, linked to an inclusive boarding school for deaf children, creates the possibility to belong to a group, to belong to the wider community of Muyinga through public infrastructure as the first of its kind in Muyinga. In a later stage, the school will further integrate its deaf students into broader society by a future school-based wood workshop, and a future polyvalent hall, both serving the wider community of Muyinga.
Intercultural Dialogue and participatory processes. For several years or even decades, participatory design has taken a more prominent role in modern architecture. Some of these initiatives are very innovative but often fail to translate well-intended theory to real-life practice. BC architects & studies have focused from the beginning of the implementation of participatory processes in constructional practice. We do this not only by cooperating with local workforces, but also by involving students, interns, and young architects, in a mutual educational setting. Also, the organisation of the library is based on this principle. The board of the library includes all directors of neighboring primary and secondary schools, facilitating contact and cooperation between the future deaf students and the hearing students. The library will also host cinema-nights for the whole community of Muyinga.
Educational processes during construction. Different educational institutions contribute to this project. Summer school with LUCA architecture university Brussels: Every year 3-6 students join us to work on the field in Burundi for at least 6 weeks, supported by a scholarship of VLIR-UOS. Experience trip for Zevenkerken High School: Every year, around 20-30 high school students come and enlarge their perspective during a 2 week stay in Burundi. Architecture internships: every year 1-2 people join us for their architectural internship during at least 1 month. Whatever the group, everyone joins in small on-site prototyping workshops on diverse topics such as CEB production, adobe production, earth analysis, bamboo weaving, sisal weaving, foundation solutions, furniture design, and so on, in an atmosphere of mutual contact and respect with local craftsmen, whereby knowledge of all involved is shared. These workshops bring an understanding of the direct social, cultural, ecological and economic effects of certain actions in a globalizing world: small scale actions do matter.
Short-chain economy, knowledge transfer, capacity building. All material research, design decisions, and construction site organisation aim at keeping a short supply chain of expertise, labour, and materials. We try to reinforce the local economy by means of this short supply chain. We chose hand labour over machine labour when organizing earthworks; we hire only local labourers, a local foreman, and local architect, to avoid the interference of a contractor from Bujumbura or Rwanda; we focus on the use of local materials such as earth for the masonry and finishing, clay for the roof and floor tiles, sisal for the hammock, Eucalyptus for the roof structure, and if we have to use cement, we try to do it as minimal as possible, while buying it in the local shop. Throughout the process of construction, we try to create good conditions for knowledge transfer. The builders have mastered CEB production and construction, earth plaster through our input. We have mastered the sisal hammock weaving and the floor and roof tiles detailing through the input of the local builders, and so on. The knowledge transfer goes in all directions. In the end, the construction process of the library will have built capacity. The foreman is considering mounting a CEB production facility to sell CEB blocks to Muyinga residents; 12 labourers have made it to mason-helpers or even masons during the process, which was celebrated according to the masons’ guild traditions; we have learned (and continue learning) how to act as architects in a globalizing world; the architecture students and interns have learned design with short-chain materials, to be applied in a Western construction context also. The capacity building process is endless and ongoing.
International collaborations. For this project, the architects of BC-AS worked in association with the NGO of the diocese of Muyinga Odedim (Organisation Diocésaine pour l’Entraide et le Développement Intégral de Muyinga). Together they promote a holistic approach in the construction process in Burundi, with a specific focus on the development of educational structures (schools). Satimo, a small Belgian non-profit, gives financial support. Besides that, the project is closely connected to SHC, an NGO for helping sensorial handicapped people in Africa. Also Rotary Aalst, Zonta Brugge, Province of West-Flanders, Abdijschool Zevenkerke and VOCATIO are given a worthy mention for their financial support. Finally VLIR-UOS in combination with the faculty of architecture of KU Leuven, campus Sint-Lucas Brussels/Ghent, and the Hogeschool Ghent are the academic partner of this project.
Local Materials Research. The challenge of limited resources for this project became an opportunity. We managed to respect a short supply-chain of building materials and labor force, supporting local economy, and installing pride in the construction of a library with the poor people’s material: earth.
Earth analysis: “field tests and laboratory tests” - Raw earth as building material is more fragile than other conventional building materials. Some analyse is thus important to do. Some easy tests can be made on field to have a first idea of its quality. Some other tests have to be made in the laboratory to have a better understanding of the material and improve its performance.
CEB: “from mother nature” - After an extensive material research in relation with the context, it was decided to use compressed earth bricks (CEB) as the main material for the construction of the building. We were lucky enough to find 2 CEB machines intact under 15 years of dust. The Terstaram machines produce earth blocks of 29x14x9cm that are very similar to the bricks we know in the North, apart from the fact that they are not baked. Four people are constantly producing stones, up to 1100 stones/day.
Eucalyptus “wood; the strongest, the reddest” - The load-bearing beams that are supporting the roof are made of eucalyptus wood, which is sustainably harvested in Muramba. Eucalyptus wood renders soil acid and therefor blocks other vegetation to grow. Thus, a clear forest management vision is needed to control the use of it in the Burundian hills. When rightly managed, Eucalyptus is the best solution to span spaces and use as construction wood, due to its high strengths and fast-growing.
Tiles: “local quality product” - The roof and floor tiles are made in a local atelier in the surroundings of Muyinga. The tiles are made of baked Nyamaso valley clay. After baking, their color renders beautifully vague pink, in the same range of colors as the bricks. Each roof surface in the library design consists of around 1400 tiles. This roof replaces imported corrugated iron sheets, and revalues local materials as a key design element for public roof infrastructure.
Internal Earth plaster: “simple but sensitive” - Clay from the valley of Nyamaso, 3 km from the construction site, was used for its pure and non-expansive qualities. After some minimal testing with bricks, a mix was chosen and applied on the interior of the library. The earth plaster is resistant to indoor normal use for a public function, and has turned out nicely.
Bamboo: “Weaving lamp fixtures” - Local bamboo is not of construction quality, but can nicely be used for special interior design functions, or light filters. In a joint workshop with Burundians and Belgians, some weaving techniques were explored, and in the end, used for the lamp fixtures inside the library.
Sisal rope: “from plant to hammock” - Net-making from Sisal plant fibres is one of the small micro-economies that bloomed in this project. It took a lot of effort to find the only elder around Muyinga that masters the Sisal rope weaving technique. He harvested the local sisal plant on site, and started weaving. In the pilot project, he educated 4 other workers, who now also master this technique, and use it as a skill to gain their livelihood. The resulting hammock serves as a children’s space to play, relax and read, on a mezzanine level above the library space.
Concrete “when it’s the only way out” - For this pilot project, we didn’t want to take any risks for structural issues. A lightweight concrete skeleton structure is inside the CEB columns, in a way that both materials (CEB and concrete) are mechanically separated. The CEB hollow columns were used as a “lost” formwork for the concrete works. It is our aim, given our experience with Phase 1, to eliminate the structural use of concrete for future buildings.
Originally published on January 16, 2014.