INTERVIEW: We Talk to Architect Charles Newman About 15,000 Bottle Caps for Africa

by , 02/22/13

15; 000 Bottle Caps for Africa; Under the Acacia; Charles Newman; Charles Newman Design; recycled materials; recycled bottlecaps; reused materials; repurposed materials; social design; low impact; traditional techniques; Maasai; Maasai culture; Kenya; Africa; Village Earth; Habitat for Humanity; Inhabitat; Engineers Without Borders; Jess Teutonico; Loita Hills; Greystone Learning Center; Greystone Aviation; Internet Society; Adele’s Literacy Library

Inhabitat: Sustainable design is a buzzword these days. How would you define the term and where does your project fit into the picture?

Charles Newman: Sustainable design is a buzzword because it is overused. Making a project financially sustainable is extremely important, but explaining a project such as this one as simply “sustainable” falls short of the community’s goals. This project aims to improve quality of life on so many levels that promotion, advancement, and inspiration are much more fitting terms.

Inhabitat: Is there a lot of local input and involvement in the project? What is something unexpected you have learned from the experience so far?

Charles Newman: One of the reasons that it has proven so difficult for organizations to work with the Maasai, is the tribe’s historic resistance to western culture. This has preserved the social structure, the way of life, and their beautiful Maasai aesthetic from dilution. The introduction of education and information, which is so craved by the younger generations, is much more of a delicate matter when considering the historic values of the Maasai people. Working with the community leaders to move the project forward could not have been done without Under The Acacia’s long standing relationship with the village and our respectful, community driven design process.

Inhabitat: What is next for the Loita community? And what is next for you?

Charles Newman: The Learning Center isn’t entirely completed yet. We are working with Voices of Africa For Sustainable Development towards the installation of the electrical equipment, after which there will be a monitoring phase to make sure the programs run smoothly. Under The Acacia has also been working with another community run school in Esoit, so there are still many things on the agenda.

As for me, I have accepted a position in The Democratic Republic of Congo as a reconstruction manager with the International Rescue Committee. I will continue to volunteer from the DRC with various organizations and projects abroad, though I have particularly high hopes for UTA and the Loita community.

You can follow Charles on Twitter @Afritekt.

+ Charles Newman
+ 15,000 Bottle Caps for Africa
+ Under The Acacia

Images courtesy of Charles Newman

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