Prototype Child-Friendly School in Sierra Leone

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Prototype Child-Friendly School in Sierra Leone
THE ISSUE Despite the end of the civil war in 2002, people are struggling to rebuild their lives. Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world, where a shocking one in four children die before their fifth birthday. There is a severe lack of basic education, sanitation and hygiene facilities. The 10 year civil war targeted schools, leaving many destroyed or derelict. THE SOLUTION Article 25 is working with Save the Children to design and construct a prototype school in eastern Sierra Leone. The design will then be rolled out to 20 more locations over the region in the first three years and thereafter delivered in up to 60 locations in the next five years. We have engaged the support of Foster + Partners, one of the UK’s leading architectural firms, and engineers Buro Happold, to assist with this. Each school will accommodate up to 300 students, which means this project can ultimately make education available to 18,000 children. The project’s key aim is to improve on the current school design standards by making the educational buildings more child-friendly, improving on classroom design and generating a better educational experience for the students. The prototype school has been designed to follow key principles of sustainability and respond to local climatic conditions. Large openings and a roof lantern will provide natural ventilation and improved natural lighting. Local bush sticks have been appropriated to create shading and protection from rain. Great consideration has been given to the use of locally available materials generally, some of which can be foraged and collected by the local community. Local “bush poles` will be load tested on site and assembled to form the roof truss whilst soil on the site will be compressed to form Interlocking Soil Stabilized Blocks to build walls and foundations. The prototype school will additionally improve the scope of education services, a new wider plan will provide a more flexible of classroom layout, allowing teachers access to each pupil’s desk in great contrast to the current model of “teaching by rote` where teachers are confined to the blackboard. Lord Norman Foster has said: ‘The project to design a school for Sierra Leone has been an exciting design challenge... Our approach seeks to achieve the most with the least, using indigenous techniques and materials to create a prototype for a modern, flexible school building that is uplifting and inspiring to use.’ Feasibility The school design was developed from research into the following: • The problems and potentials of current schools in Sierra Leone. • Historical, cultural and political context. • Available construction materials. • Site context and basic geological survey. • Requirements of building programme and number of uses. • Community capacity analysis. Community Participation A key aspect of the way Article 25 works on this project is through community participation, ensuring that the local economy is able to prosper through the jobs created and the community is empowered with new skills and knowledge. Community involvement has been vital in this design process and workshops have been conducted with the children to include discussions, drawing exercises and modelling. Through this we were able to exchange knowledge and ideas to determine the community’s aspirations and to ensure collective agreement in the design. The proposal of simple building techniques, coupled with high levels of professional input, will allow local involvement in the construction of the project, improving the local skill base and engendering a sense of community ownership of the school. Key Challenges Significant challenges needed to be addressed for the new design to drastically improve the existing school model. These challenges included: • Hot, poorly ventilated classrooms. • Rigid Classroom layouts force a system of “teaching by rote` • Dark interior spaces make poor study environments. • Conventional construction materials need to be shipped over long distances. • High cement and concrete content requires specialist contractor involvement. • Sustainability of conventional construction is poor. • A lack of local capacity for maintenance and • Skills capacities of rural communities can be low and should be developed as part of any construction programme Construction The construction will include a “bush pole` roof over interlocking block soil stabilised walls. Article 25 has designed simple, hard wearing, construction details to ensure ease of buildability, high quality construction and value for money. A combination of sketches, models and CAD drawings will be used to communicate the details of the design to the contractors. The Article 25 design proposes: • Minimum use of concrete • Maximum use of natural materials • local, low cost procurement strategies • Improved safety and on-site supervision of works • Ease of buildability to foster local community involvement THE END RESULT This project has already garnered the interest of the media, demonstrating its significance and value. Details of the project were published in The Architects’ Journal in June and a model of the prototype school will be on display at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition's Architecture Room from June to August of this year. The new design will create a safe and child friendly educational environment for thousands of children for years to come.

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