When we decided to enter this challenge we made ourselves a question – what can the Kenyan youth offer us, what can they offer the world?
We thought about this for a couple of days and then we started our research. First of all we read all about Kenya, its History, its culture, its people, the traditional construction methods, the traditional materials, its fauna and flora and then we stopped once again. The question rose once again – with all the information we gathered how could we use the knowledge of a so called poor country to teach some sustainability issues to the developed world?
We thought about what it meant to be sustainable, the differences of being sustainable in a poor country or in a rich country and we found ourselves beyond this huge issue that concerns not only the developed countries but much more the developing countries – water.
So water was the beginning of our adventure. Why? Well, we were asked to build a facility to facilitate the communications between Kenyan youth and the rest of the world, we were asked to make it sustainable. Water is a major issue when it comes to sustainability as it’s essential for survival and, at the sometime, so history tells, water is a mean of communication, our great great grand parents used it to travel all around the world, for commercial trades, for discovering… So what other concept could be as strong and significant as water in this particular project?
Giving form to the idea
As water was our concept we started by working on a way to collect water, keep it and share it. So the first thing that grew out was this sort of sculpture form ceiling that would recollect water and direct it into a deposit. Quickly this deposit came out to be a tower for functional and symbolical reasons. As the functional reasons will be explained ahead the symbolical ones have to do with identity, territorial mark and the idea of fortress and evolution. From these two elements, this sculptural form that we decided should be made out of the metal sheets recovered from the old buildings on the site and the tower, made out of stone, reinforcing its symbolic presence, we started to create the whole project.
We started by organizing the program, deciding what should be here and their. We thought that the old buildings should go down and there program would transit to the new facilities. After some scratching and sketching the facilities came out as two stripes lined up between the sculpture covering and the facilities pre-existing walls. On the same side of the tower grew the main building on the opposite side grew the building with what we considered to be the secondary program of the media centre.
So when you enter the facilities you first see the tower and continuing under the water collector covering you walk towards the main building. This building has two storeys, and its form leaves the impression that the second storey slided. When you enter the building you are in the main reception and you can either go into the health care centre on your left or into the computer training centre and conference room on the right if you climb the staircase you find the administrative offices and the library and computer lab as well as a secure storage.
If, instead of entering this one you continue trough the path under the covering you get to the second building in which you can find the day-care centre on the ground floor besides a maintenance room and two classrooms on the first floor that have a sliding panel and can quickly transform themselves into another conference room – these classrooms were conceived to substitute partly the functions of the main hall that existed in the site previously; on the first floor you can also see another secure storage and the radio station. The internet cafe is an independent item though it is assembled to this second building. Inside you can find the bakery as well as the payphone area.
The water collecting covering divides the exterior space in two main areas – the first one of a more public character holds the café’s esplanade and the garbage collectors, that function as the wall that separate the inside of the facilities from the street. Why we chose this particular space for these containers? Well, we thought that as we are building a sustainable centre it should somehow help educate people in sustainability, so giving them the means is one of the steps. So, these containers are meant to be used not only by the facilities but by the people of the slum.
On the other side of the covering stand the amphitheatre, which stage is made out of stones in the ground pavement, a little like the ancient Greek theatres, and the playground that has the international dimensions for basketball, tennis and soccer pitch for teams of five players. The amphitheatre balconies are conceived as two rigid row-benches and three modular structures that can be moved so that they can be used for the amphitheatre or to watch a game.
The choice of the building materials
The buildings are made out of stone and adobe blocks. The choice of these materials has to do with there sustainability. The adobe blocks are made out of earth collected on site and don’t spend much energy either when they are being build, or on the afterwards. They isolate very well when it comes to thermal and acoustical issues. And they can be build by the community without a need of specialized work, as it is a traditional construction method used by the Kenyan people. To be stronger these adobe blocks have a small percent of cement that gives them rigidity. And they are stuck together with a mortar that contains rice made paste that is very strong and flexible and helps avoid fissures. The adobe blocks are set on top of stone foundations to avoid water infiltrations into the structure. The stone comes from the region and appears here and their in the brick wall to rise the rigidity of the walls, especially where there are windows.
To build the floors we proposed plastered ceiling made out of adobe blocks and a metal structure that runs in the small length of the buildings. The pavement inside is made out of rammed earth with an organic varnish. The inside walls are also mad of earth, but using a different technique – pisé – which allows on one hand to insert into the wall old bottles and on the other to mould the wall. The roof is covered with plastic bags to give impermeability to the plaster ceiling and on top there is a beam structure that supports the metal sheets. These metal sheets are recovered, when possible from the pre-existing structures and painted white to reflect the sun, they are also kept separated from the main ceiling in order to ventilate and avoid over heating.
The sculpture covering is also made out of these metal sheets and has a structure made out of all types of pillars find on site and in the neighbourhoods.
A passive and self sustainable building
The whole facility is meant to be sustainable. So first of all we conceived a way to collect rain water and keep it in a deposit. The tower that holds the deposit also holds a well so that if there is no water from the rain their still is some water. This tower has a particularity – it has a faucet on the façade orientated to the public domain as we think that as water is our main feature it has also the ability to connect and so it is important that everyone can reach to it.
The water gathered on the roof tops is directed into the covering and from here it goes directly into the deposit where it is treated to be potable for drinking. From the deposit it is redirected into the buildings through pipes under the ground level. The graywaters on the other side are recycled using a evapotranspiriation system, which means that the waters are directed to a garden made out of gravel, sand and water plants, that do the recycling process and then let the water go into the soil again. To avoid the septic store that is highly polluting for water, the toilets are composting ones, as well as the organic garbage container.
When it comes to ventilation, heating and cooling of the facilities, the density of the walls help controlling and maintaining a regular temperature on the inside, which is reinforced by the narrow windows. These windows where designed thinking on this more functional and sustainable side but also as a symbolic figuration of the Kenyan people and culture – the rhythm of the windows points to the rhythm of the people, their music, their agility, and they are narrow in a symbolic figuration of the Kenyans so known elegance.
The ventilation is natural and is made using two simple gestures - the first is building each storey with a high ceiling (the ground floor has 3metres between pavement and ceiling and the first floor has 4metres) the second is creating small gaps between the bricks or stones near the floor and the ceiling, in opposite walls, which provokes crossed ventilation.
When it comes to energy, first we placed the windows in a way that the rooms would need a small amount of extra light during the day, and then we decided to use a photovoltaic system to create the needed power to work computers and other accessories. The energy power system we decided to implement is made of modules of photovoltaic panels. These are constituted by technical columns and photovoltaic receptors organized in modules which allow a progressive installation and substitution of the metal sheets. This solar structure, still in phase of experiment, is low cost and low weight, and can use the same structure of the metal sheets. Its constitution and an intelligent solar orientation using microprocessors allows it to be placed in any angle, and the photovoltaic receptors keep themselves perpendiculars to the solar beams allowing the natural ventilation of the roof, and closing themselves whenever it is needed or when it rains, not allowing the water to reach the earth structure.