Designing and Building in Central and East Africa

Architectural Prototypes in the Congo: Proposing Improvements

Typical Classrooms, Cihumba, DRC

Thousands of structures have already been built within the IRC’s Tuungane program; and with 470 communities in South Kivu still progressing towards construction within the next two years, it is impossible to custom-design each village project.  The IRC strategy has been to create a series of standard designs that enable reliable cost estimation, rapid construction, and efficient project monitoring.

When I arrived in Bukavu, I found simple drawings that serve as the construction documents for each project sector: water/sanitation, education, health and public markets.  The communities can then modify certain materials in order to fit the project costs within their budget envelope.  However, due to the small grants that each community receives, these prescribed designs have been schematically consolidated in order to cut costs to the degree that adjacencies, circulation needs, and contextual considerations have been sacrificed.  Unfortunately, these designs still comply with the DRC building codes (which often prescribe exact building plans – thereby preventing any improved designs from being implemented).

Typical Health Center, Ihoka, DRC

Some engineers feel that the buildings and systems that have been built so far have been the best and most efficient designs, but their assessments have been base entirely on spread sheets of quantities, prices and purely quantitative data.  Contextual design can be cheaper to build, thereby sparing funds for additional projects.  It can also improve the community’s ownership of the project – a vital consideration.

In the past, I have freely changed “standard” designs in order to better serve the needs of communities; and proceeded through construction without some government approvals.  So far, the various government ministries have endorsed my changes upon seeing the final product. However, because the Tuungane program prepares communities to operate within local governance systems, such a strategy would undermine the goals of the entire initiative.

In order to promote the creative design process as essential to the development efforts of the Tuungane program, and indeed to any program, I will follow through a formal analysis of each building design and propose structural modifications, schematic revisions, and site planning considerations for each.  These will be presented to government ministries for approval before any construction can begin.

My first analysis will focus on the smallest construction available to the communities in the Tuungane Program: Un Poste de Sante (health center station).

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2 responses

  1. A few comments on the designs shown in the photographs. From my experience I would say that the roof overhangs are too small. You want to keep the rain off the walls to reduce maintenance costs and the sun out of windows to reduce solar gains in the rooms and increase comfort. I would also question the use of the RC columns. As shown they are too far apart to be structural and used at corners will destroy the integrity of the brickwork. They also add to the cost!! The structure will be just as strong if not stronger and more economic without any columns.

    September 29, 2012 at 11:04 am

    • BushArchitect – Thanks for the input! I agree with you regarding the spacing of the reinforced concrete columns. I should really follow up with another post showing the technical drawings, as I have made some slight improvements.
      A larger overhang would indeed provide various benefits, though it would be a tough sell. The cost for the roofing panels alone often surpasses $3,000 – and because our communities have fixed budgets, such improvements would reduce the overall footprint.
      I’d love to find an alternative roofing material that is cheaper and more durable.

      September 29, 2012 at 5:38 pm

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