Rwanda is writing a new global story for itself. Over two decades after the end of the country’s civil war and the 1994 genocide, a series of progressive visions have been the catalyst for transformation throughout Rwanda. These economic and structural reforms have redefined the built environment, and in turn, are shaping contemporary architecture across the country.
Though it is one of the smallest countries in Africa, Rwanda has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Predominantly rural, the population’s culture is tied to the Banyarwanda people, from the forest-dwelling Twa to the Hutu and Tutsi. Extending across the eastern savannah to the western mountains, the country’s cities are being redefined through a series of governmental initiatives and beautification processes. These are linked to environmental plans aiming to rethink infrastructure and congestion, from the capital city of Kigali to more rural areas.
An example of new projects taking shape was made in 2015, when Foster + Partners unveiled designs for a droneport in Rwanda. The proposal was an attempt to bring more efficient medical care and commercial delivery services to communities in Africa where there is a lack of infrastructure required to meet the population's needs. "Rwanda’s challenging geographical and social landscape makes it an ideal test-bed for the Droneport project," said Norman Foster. "This project can have massive impact through the century and save lives immediately."
Modern architecture has begun to take root as people began moving into cities during the 80s. Projects like the Kigali Towers were a radical change from traditional grass-thatched houses and older roof structures made to extend to the ground. Development is innately tied to the country’s geography, where architects in “the land of a thousand hills” are working with the topography to set buildings within the varied landscape. Addressing nuances from the country’s past, the following projects showcase recent architecture built over the last decade.
Inspired by the rolling hills of Rwanda and the thatched design of the King’s Palace at Nyanza, Bisate sits woven between the lush growths adjacent to Volcanoes National Park. Bisate reflects the innate organic culture of Rwanda and reflects sophisticated spaces around every turn. Craftily designed the spherical rooms and public areas add bespoke and sustainable solutions to the intricate and difficult surroundings. The design is a celebration of modern luxury and a unique culture which has stood the test of time, becoming a platform from which the guest experience departs.
In 2007, UK charity A Partner In Education (APIE), as part of its mission to boost education in Africa, committed to building a new school campus in the Kigali neighborhood of Kabeza to replace dilapidated existing facilities. MASS was brought onboard to select the new site, design the new educational facility, as well as assist in building the organizational structure to support the educational programs for the Kabeza neighborhood. The school opened in July of 2011 with H.E. President Paul Kagame inaugurating the project.
The architecture Practice Patrick Schweitzer & Associés responded to the international call launched by the Government of Rwanda in March 2012 for the construction of the new Faculty of architecture in Kigali. This school covers an area of 5 600 square meters and has the capacity to accommodate 600 students. It is located in the University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology campus in Nyarugenge District. The works started in early 2017 and were completed at the end of 2017.
Two new “Share Houses” – designed by New York City-based Sharon Davis Design, in partnership with Rwanda Village Enterprise for Partners In Health and the Rwandan Ministry of Health – are opening this week in rural Rwinkwavu, Rwanda. This housing represents a major step forward for the local healthcare system in this remote area of Rwanda. The design responds both to its site on a hot, dry hillside and to the tight budget required by the client.
In January 2011, the Rwandan Ministry of Health and Partners In Health (PIH) opened the 140-bed Butaro Hospital in the Burera District of Rwanda. Burera District, which has a population of over 340,000, has historically had very poor health indicators compared to other areas of Rwanda, and is one of the most impoverished districts in the country. Prior to PIH’s arrival in 2007, Burera was one of the last two districts in the country without a functioning district hospital and was without a single doctor. MASS Design Group was brought in by PIH in 2008 to help plan and design a first-rate facility that would help reverse these conditions.
On a two-hectare site in Rwanda, the most densely populated country in Africa, the Women’s Opportunity Center is empowering one small community and, in turn, rewriting our role as designers. One hour from the Rwandan capital of Kigali, Kayonza is like much of this strife-torn nation: a place with few means but great promise. In this semi-rural setting, women dedicate their days to small subsistence farms, fetching fresh water, and scavenging wood for fuel. The site of the new Women’s Opportunity Center, located at a crossroads above a fertile valley, is an ideal arena for architecture that opens a new world of opportunity.
Global health pioneer Partners In Health (PIH) partnered with the Rwandan Ministry of Health in 2005 to extend health care access throughout rural Rwanda—particularly to the Burera District’s population of 340,000 who had limited access to care. MASS, PIH, and their partners, led by the Daniel E. Ponton Fund at the Boston-based Brigham and Women’s Hospital, launched a multi-phase housing initiative to help attract and retain the best medical expertise in this rural region. By providing a space of respite and recovery, this housing provides a key service in the provision of the best level of care to the community.
The project is part of work undertaken by Light Earth Designs for the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation over a 5-year period on how Rwanda can transition from an agriculture-based economy to development using local labor-intensive construction techniques, thereby avoiding imports, lowering carbon, and building skills and economies. The primary enclosure of the cricket stadium, the vaults, adapts ancient Mediterranean tile-vaulting to a moderate seismic context by using geogrid reinforcing in the layers and bearing the springing points of the curved vaults on the ground. The vaults follow the natural resolution of forces toward the ground, closely mimicking the parabolic geometry of a bouncing ball and evoking the cherished hilly topography of Rwanda.