On the internet, a portal is a site that serves as a starting point to other destinations or activities. For the youth of Mukuru Kwa Njenga, the SIDAREC site serves as a portal between the global and local communities by bringing in access to the world and sending out knowledge and the potential to empower the community.
As with all technology, the site must provide a secure environment in terms of safety, stability, and sustainability. Access to the site is through a gateway sheltered by an uplifted roof form and shading devices that double as gates when the site is closed. Entry through the administrative area enables staff to be more aware of who is onsite. This portal opens to the exterior gathering area for community events, including a communal garden, play spaces, and a covered porch that doubles as a stage for community theater.
Opening to the courtyard by large barn doors that allow for maximum ventilation and flexible use of space, the exterior gathering area flows to an interior gathering area in the form of an internet café and community center. The café is accented with a tower that serves as a loft for the radio antenna and equipment, but also as a heat stack – drawing hot air up and out of the café and bakery to provide additional cooling in the tropical climate. The tower is a visual representation of the connection to both the local and global community.
The spaces in the building are designed to be flexible for multiple uses and envisioned to be partitioned with furniture on wheels that move into storage areas to create larger gatherings. The training center is an open area of library and classroom where access to computers move the youth closer to a connected world. Once connected, the adjacent internet café allows learned knowledge to be transferred into opportunities to conduct business, share experiences, and interact with the global community. On a local level, the radio station becomes another conduit as the broadcast shares their experiences with the local community.
Newton’s First Law describes the movement of objects being unchanged until acted upon by an unbalanced force. It is intended that the global access the SIDAREC site provides will be the force broadcasted through the local community.
Once in motion, this object must remain in motion, speed, and direction through sustainability. The building is constructed of local materials, including concrete block and metal roofing. The pitch of the roof offers sun shading and an opportunity for rainwater to be harvested in above ground cisterns behind the building for washing and the communal garden.
The tower that provides for heat stack ventilation has a roof optimally angled for the collection of solar energy through the installation of photovoltaic panels. These panels provide the center with its own power to be able to maintain constant access to the global community.
The use of local materials, solar power, and rainwater harvesting all contribute to the sustainability of the building and the services it provides. Furthermore, the flexibility of the space allows the organization to provide a variety of services at a small fee to offset the cost of running afterschool programs, thus creating an organization that is sustainable and better able to serve the community.
In Swahili, a portal is called malango. The SIDAREC site is this portal – the gateway, the conduit, the passport to a larger community. It is to connect, share, trade, inform, and ultimately empower and mobilize.