EMPOWER: NAIROBI SIDAREC
The SIDAREC organization is dedicated to empowering youth in Mukuru Kwa Njeda. "Empowerment" most importantly means helping another to take control of their circumstances, a valuable idea in an area plagued with an extreme lack of resources an opportunity. When presented with this design challenge, I began to think about how the building itself could empower its users through the design and architecture.
A building in a slum area is inherently a valuable commodity. At the basic level, a building for SIDAREC would provide shelter and security for new technology. However, I wanted to explore how the design could increase the usefulness of the building beyond these basics.
Most importantly, I employed the idea of a "living wall." This type of construction is becoming popular in Europe, but typically uses expensive technology. This proposal explores the idea of how the notion of a living wall can be applied to third world construction systems. Using basic masonry construction, the living wall performs many additional functions for the building, such as modestly filtering and collecting rainwater. Further, I envision the living wall being a garden that is tended by the students at SIDAREC, allowing them to have "ownership" of a part of the building. Perhaps these plants could be herbs and/or vegetables to be sold on the street for further income for the students or the organization. The living wall could provide valuable teaching opportunities for students such as the value of hard work, patience, and dedication. In this way, a simple wall section can help to further empower the youth of SIDAREC.
While the living wall is the most elaborate of this proposal's architecture of empowerment, I've considered several smaller details that give more control to the user and owner. For example, the overhangs by the childcare area can be constructed to function as both a shading device and a basic climbing area for children. In this way, children can have something to climb on without necessitating full playground equipment. Further, the childcare area is equipped with sliding doors so that the space can be used as a pavilion space or closed for additional classroom space and/or privacy. A community kitchen area, which is basically a sheltered open air area, allows for site visitors to prepare their own food to save money. Also, this allows the site to be used for other purposes, such as wedding receptions for families with no where else to go.
In the technology center, the spaces are configured so that office workers have visual contact with all users passing into technology areas. I am also proposing individual desk consoles for computers in the lab areas, so that workstations can be reconfigured depending on daily needs. All of these details reinforce the notion that CHOICE is essential to empowerment.
In terms of construction, this proposal uses local materials such as concrete, stone block, clay block/tile, and corrugated metal, which would perhaps allow for local residents of the slum to be hired for basic construction.
When left with the decision to preserve or raze the existing buildings, I decided to allow the existing to remain, so that the overall site continues to act as a campus that can change over time. Within this context, the proposed structure acts as a flux point on the site that regulates coming and going users. I see the eastern half of the site as an area open to the public, where people can watch plays in the amphitheatre, play basketball, or buy goods from the 'store'. The pronounced location of the radio tower marks a security checkpoint for the site. Beyond this point, site access is much more limited and reserved for students and clients of SIDAREC.