House & Home

Amazing Rammed Earth Construction

Posted January 17, 2014

I'm absolutely besotted with this amazing school design in Muyinga, Burundi, covered by Inhabitat. Faced with the need to provide educational accommodations for d/Deaf and hard of hearing students, architects went above and beyond with a stunningly beautiful school that also acts as a community hub. The first structure is part of a larger plan to make a welcoming, friendly educational environment that promotes learning and full community integration.

While a school in Burundi might not seem like something you'd expect to see featured on a home improvement site, it actually provides a lot of illustrative lessons for your own remodeling projects and home design schemes. Every construction project presents challenges, and while the challenges may vary, the need to identify and meet them doesn't! Whether you're facing down Atlanta roofing on a gabled house or a community church in Tanzania, every construction site is unique.

In this case, the architectural firm and builders wanted to work with local materials to cut costs and be environmentally friendly. At the same time, they wanted to use modern and fully-informed approaches to school architecture, with a particular focus on designs that are friendly to d/Deaf and hard of hearing students. They wanted a light, airy, healthy learning environment that could suit the needs of students of all ages and, at the same time, create a space for community members.

However, they didn't want to ride roughshod over regional traditions. Historically, Western NGOs, well-meaning architectural firms, and other do-gooders have entered communities with recommendations on what to do without considering the local community. This tends to create adversarial relationships, as people may feel insulted and patronized by this approach, and it can also create structural problems: Western architecture, building techniques, and approaches to maintenance are not always suited to different climates and environments.

The team spent time in the community reaching out to community members about what they wanted and needed while taking note of construction norms, available materials, and community wisdom -- for example, they noted that rammed earth blocks are a durable and affordable construction material (and you can use them here, too!). They also conducted research on the local climate and environment. With all of this information in hand, they went to the drawing board to develop a plan for the school, and the result is a shining example of what can happen when people work together on development projects.

Today, a school in Burundi. Tomorrow, a new home for you, perhaps?

Katie Marks writes for

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