Environmentally sustainable design has become increasingly prevalent in developed countries, specifically in high-end projects for wealthy private clients. Yet more and more, sustainability in design is being considered holistically through the lens of humanitarian efforts, such as the work of non-profits like Architecture for Humanity. This movement has trickled down to architecture schools, which are increasingly participating in design exchanges that create lasting connections with cultures in developing countries, fostering collaborative design and sharing of knowledge between students and their clients. The University of Texas at Austin's School of Architecture, under the guidance of professor Michael Garrison, has partnered with Dr. Donna Gunn and Africa's Promise Village School to design a school in the Simanjiro district of Tanzania with a practical curriculum centered around sustainable, high-yield agricultural practices.
In the Spring of 2011, graduate students in Professor Garrison’s vertical design studio were tasked with the design of a school in rural Tanzania. Seeking sustainable design advice, Dr. Gunn, the Executive Director of Africa’s Promise Village School, reached out to Garisson and his students to improve the conditions of education in rural Tanzania, where low wages and lack of funding and resources at school lead to low literacy rates and little chance for employment. Government-run schools employ teachers with no formal education, provide little in terms of textbooks and other school supplies, and sit up to 90 students per classroom. This condition is reflected in the district of Simanjiro, where Africa’s Promise Village School will serve the parish of Father Peter Pascal Pinto, spanning over 19 Masaai villages. Father Pinto and Dr. Gunn advised the design process, working with the University of Texas team to create guidelines to guide proposals from each student.
Initial parameters included the division of the site, informed by assumptions about the school’s curriculum. The Maasai tribe of Esilale ceded 40 acres for construction; 10 acres were designated for the school, and the remaining 30 for a triple crop of maize, sunflowers, and chickpeas to complement the Maasai’s existing farms and help combat prevalent malnutrition. This practical sensibility extended into the school’s curriculum; approximately 400 children will be educated in various methods of crop production, irrigation, reading and writing, price negotiation, marketing of local crafts, and general hygiene and food preparation, looking to increase crop yield while improving education for Maasai youth.
Emerging from these programmatic goals and the restrictions and opportunity of the site and potential users, a basic program for the school guided student designs. In order to house 400 students, the complex will include 10 classrooms, dormitories for students and volunteers, an outdoor cooking facility, teacher housing, sanitation facilities, and a fresh water well to provide water to the children, community, farm animals, and for irrigation of crops. Key environmental aspects required of each design included natural lighting and ventilation, use of local and recycled materials, hand-built and traditional construction techniques, rainwater catchment and recycling, and shading verandas. In order to foster sustainability without creating dependency, local materials must be used, and the Maasai people must play an integral role in the design and construction of the school, integrating their cultural, architectural, and agricultural knowledge with the students to devise the most appropriate yet innovative design.
Given these parameters, each student devised a design, and a winning project was chosen by a faculty jury, Dr. Gunn and Erin McGunn of Scale Africa, a non-profit organization that designs and builds school infrastructure projects in rural sub-Saharan Africa. Refinement of the design and construction drawings occurred during the Fall 2011 semester. With the help of students traveling to Tanzania during the Spring 2012 semester, ScaleAfrica will be in charge of construction of the project in Esilale. Due to the success of this initial project, Michael Garrison and his students have begun work on another school project in Uganda.
Africa’s Promise Village School, in its iteration in Tanzania and future projects, highlights the importance of education as a human right, and represents the opportunity to create architectural projects that integrate environmental sustainability and design with social progress and the generation of economic viability. With goals of increasing the agricultural performance of rural sub-Saharan Africans, while improving education in a practical and comprehensive manner, this initiative hopes to produce well-educated youth that can prosper within or outside of the agricultural context. In addition to improving the economic outlook of the Maawai people, this initiative enhances the value of education for both budding designers and farmers, increasing awareness of the need for collaboration in the sustainable development of our world.