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Building a Better Classroom: Malawi

Competition Semi-finalist for: 2009 Open Architecture Challenge: Classroom

Malawi, a landlocked country in Southeast Africa, is among the world's least developed and most densely populated countries. The vast majority of its citizens have only an elementary-level education, and often girls do not even have that. Basic needs like clean drinking water, basic healthcare, clothing and school systems are rare here. Although there are a handful of larger sized cities in Malawi, the majority of the population live in small, remote villages, most with no form of running water, plumbing or electricity. There are few paved roads in the country so travel between these villages is often difficult, only accessible by pickup trucks or SUVs.
My "Better Classroom" design aims to tackle a number of these difficult problems. The primary use of the building is that of education, however it is flexible enough to double as a temporary health clinic, civic center, market or any number of uses the villagers may find for it.
• Front Steps/Yard: The main "entrance" to the building is marked by wide steps and large, doors made with woven thatch screens. The doors are intended to create privacy when needed but be inviting when open. The main steps are to be used as an area for children to wait to be picked up by their elder siblings or guardians; a place for students to congregate before and after classes; and as seating for sports games or performances done in the adjacent field.
• Main Classroom Area: The classroom area was designed with flexibility in mind while having several practical elements. The hollow brick exterior walls have a plywood bench on top, which is hinged to allow for storage beneath. These benches are intended to be used by older children, those with health problems or by girls who are embarrassed to sit on the ground while wearing a skirt or dress (a problem mentioned during the client visit). Also, the bench is painted with black chalkboard paint, to act as writing surfaces were the teacher to have the class work in smaller sections. Underneath the benches are plywood bookshelves. The rear, rammed earth wall is painted with the same black chalkboard paint to act as the main writing surface for the teacher. To help with sound and sunlight transmission, light-weight fabric sheets are suspended from the beams by hooks (easily removable if needed).
• Kitchen/Garden: The design is intended as a prototype, with no particular site in mind. However, immediately adjacent to the building in the rear is a plot for a vegetable or bamboo garden. The current schooling system in Malawi gives one free meal to each student every day. With that in mind, there is a small kitchen area in the rear, with access to water from the cistern, a small countertop and area for a fire and large pot for cooking. The garden is intended to promote healthy, nutritious eating by having fruits and vegetables readily available for the students. Additionally, if space is available, an area of the garden could be devoted to the growth of bamboo - a sustainable, renewable building resource that could be used in the future for further growth of the village. With the right timing, the bamboo could be planted as the first step of construction, then by the time the bamboo has matured, it could be used for the structural trusses of the classroom.
• Materials: The primary building materials in Malawi are red clay bricks, which the villagers are comfortable using and fabricating. The main structural piers are made of these bricks, as well as the cistern in the rear, foundation walls and rear wall. Intermediate columns are made of un-sawn, "raw" log columns, preferably logs salvaged from on site. The main roofing material is intended to be translucent corrugated polycarbonate sheets. This material allows light to pass through but blocks out UV rays and heat, thus eliminating the need for artificial lighting. Additionally, corrugated roofing is easy to install and is long lasting. The main front doors, as well as screens on the side walls, are intended to made out of straw thatch. Malawians use thatch as a roofing material however it is prone to leaks and is not durable. Regardless, thatch is a beautiful, simple material which allows light and air to pass through but creates privacy and enclosure.
• Sustainability: The building is inherently sustainable by using primarily indigenous materials. Elements which must be trucked in from off-site have been carefully studied to create as minimal a space as possible while still serving its function. The sloping roof sends rain water to a cistern in the rear, with spigots for easy access. The shape of the roof would allow for solar panels to be installed easily were the villagers to receive funding for them. Also, the upward slant of the roof facilitates chimney-effect cooling. The narrow footprint of the building also promotes cross ventilation.




Competition Category Entered

Competition Details

  • Name: 2009 Open Architecture Challenge: Classroom
  • Host: Architecture for Humanity
  • Type: Public
  • Registration Deadline: May 4, 2009
  • Submission Deadline: June 1, 2009
  • Entry Fee: $25 USD Developed Nations , $0 USD Developing Nations
  • Award: $50,000 for the winning school for classroom construction and upgrading, and $5,000 stipend for the design team.
  • Contact: Sandhya
  • Status: Winners Announced

The competition entry ID for this project is 4399.

Project Details

NAME: Building a Better Classroom: Malawi
START DATE: March 31, 2009
CURRENT PHASE: Design development
SIZE: 96 sq. m
PROJECT TYPE: Education Facility - Primary School
, Architecture for Humanity

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