SMALL PROJECTS, BIG IMPACTS
by Y-Jean Mun-Delsalle
It’s not the size that matters. Small projects can make a big impact. Community-supported construction of sustainable and appropriate facilities is an effective social development concept, proving that architecture in underserved areas is more than development aid or environmentally-friendly construction, but a means for building a community. These projects combine traditional building materials and technologies with clever design solutions that protect the natural environment and also place great emphasis on actively engaging the local population in the construction process. Buildings constructed by the local community result not only in a series of sustainable structures, but also a newfound sense of identity, self-reliance and enhanced social cohesion, generating positive impacts upon the social environment by creating opportunities for education, job creation and training. The construction process effectively forms an important part of the transfer of knowledge, whereby locals acquire new building skills that may be reused and taught to others. It’s a matter of empowering local craftsmen to learn for themselves that freely-available materials like clay, stone and wood encompass all the properties necessary to build in their respective geographic and climatic context, and that a village that works together also grows together.
A secondary school project in Gando, Burkina Faso; a community house in Ta Phin, Vietnam; and a dental polyclinic and library in Batu, Indonesia—though these construction projects intelligently leverage the site’s characteristics and locally-available materials, they demonstrate that Green building is not just about the architecture, but also about being socially-engaged. They integrate social and environmental performance for improved quality of life, demonstrating a successful approach combining the adaptive use of building materials, climatic mitigation, aesthetics and community development. Suitable for wide-scale application and the multiplication of the projects’ features, their far-reaching potential help their respective communities to develop a healthy pride and hope and, at the same time, to create a solid base for their development.
In the case of Gando Secondary School by Kéré Architecture, winner of the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction’s Global Holcim Awards Gold 2012, the awards jury commended the project for its multifaceted elements and forward-looking vision. It is impressed by the school’s innovative architectural concept, which combines both modern and vernacular construction methods, as well as by its educational
and social impact. The school aims to provide further education to the children of a rural area that has no secondary education facilities. Claudia Buhmann, architect at Kéré Architecture, says, “Young and old people from Gando welcome the project because it improves their children’s future through education.” Not only that, but as a platform for meeting, learning and teaching, it is also used to pass on new skills and knowledge to the entire community. It will hold adult educational programmes to teach women hygiene and health, proper food storage, new agricultural techniques (how to cultivate during the dry season, how to protect the soil from erosion) and computer skills.
The project has also become a job motor for young workers who have been trained in traditional and new construction techniques. People learn building techniques using readily-available local materials, which strengthens the idea of a mutually-beneficial process since the skills learnt can be applied beyond the confines of the site and help them find work in the village, which will slow emigration and secure the village’s future. This holistic approach is considered a good model of community work throughout the country, and has had a strong impact on similar endeavours in developing regions. Buhmann remarks, “The buildings have not only an educational effect on young people who, for the first time, come in contact with the profession of an architect, but also a worldwide reputation for sustainable architecture in Africa.”