Perkins+Will has partnered with Infinite Family, a U.S.-based non profit organization, to build shipping container computer labs in South Africa to help students connect with mentors. The firm completed their first LaunchPad learning laboratory in the Alexandra township outside of Johannesburg in August. The shipping container computer labs feature a number of sustainable strategies to reduce energy use, and they are equipped with photovoltaic and battery systems to make them off-grid capable. The team has plans to open 100 more LaunchPads in the next five years to help 11,000 people a year in an effort to reduce crime and increase employment.
The LaunchPad learning laboratories were designed pro bono by Perkins+Will to serve as a computer lab for students in South Africa to connect with mentors around the world as part of an Infinite Family program. The goal of the program is to let youths communicate with mentors via face-to-face interaction while learning about computers and gaining crucial skills for 21st century business. “Infinite Family’s pioneering work is an imaginative and far-sighted way to bring 21st-century technology, crucial skills, and global awareness to young people in extremely challenging situations,” said Perkins+Will’s Mike Kane, the South African–born architectural illustrator who donated his time and knowledge to the project along with former Perkins+Will Senior Designer Scott Schiamberg, now Visiting Scholar at MIT School of Architecture. “Perkins+Will is honored to have been able to design a safe and efficient space that responds to its environment and to contribute to the realization of the first prototype. We look forward to the continued expansion of Infinite Family’s success.”
The first LaunchPad in Alexandra is made out of a 40 ft shipping container and was designed to be safe, secure, energy-efficient, self-sustaining, and as environmentally sensitive as possible. A wall of recycled water bottles serves as thermal mass to provide cooling inside. A solar canopy on top provides shade in order to reduce heat gain and windows are strategically placed in locations that respond to site conditions for optimum orientation to the sun and prevailing breezes, which provide natural daylight and ventilation. Inside, the space is divided into open areas and cellular spaces for different activities. The container is also equipped with a photovoltaic system and battery backup to make sure the laboratory can operate on its own if the grid goes down.
The first mentoring laboratory opened in August 2012, and is equipped with high-speed capabilities and high-performance technology, courtesy of Internet Solutions and BT. Perkins+Will and Infinite Family hope to build 100 LaunchPad labs in the next 5 years across South Africa and eventually Sub-Saharan Africa.
Images ©Elske Photography courtesy of Perkins+Will