Designing and Building in Central and East Africa

Designing A Flexible Teacher Learning Center

In February of 2012 the project leaders from IRC’s OPEQ program (Opportunite Pour une access plus Equitable de base de Qualite – which roughly translates to “access to education”), identified the need for the construction of a series of Teacher Learning Centers. These buildings will serve as administrative hubs that provide meeting space and guidance for teachers throughout the South Kivu and Katanga provinces.
The vision for this prototype is to be a flexible space – one that can serve as a small library for reference books and a lecture hall while at times becoming a space where teachers can break into groups for smaller workshops. Further, because the building will only have limited use throughout the school year, the program leaders indicated the desire for the building to be public space that could be easily used by the surrounding community. The final requirement, as is always the case, is cost. With only $12,000 available for each building, some of which will be in extremely remote areas, alternative materials and details must be considered.
While the program has its own construction team of qualified engineers, they have no architects. Many of the building plans that were presented to the team leaders were varying versions of an “adult size” classroom + small office included within the square plan. These typical masonry constructions enclosed with doors and windows would not only be too costly, but the schemes fell short of the team’s vision for this functionality and character of the space.

It was at this point that the OPEQ team came to me for some ideas.

I found myself gravitating towards a solution to minimize the heavy construction needed. When considering the program, a library will need to be secure – with perhaps a desk for administrative purposes. All other activities require a large, open space. Therefore, the heavy construction can be consolidated around the a small meeting room / library, with an efficiently sized storage area for desks. During meetings among teachers, these desks can be organized as needed throughout the large auditorium. This large space can remain without doors to be open at all hours, with bamboo screens to define the enclosure. The floors slab can remain compacted earth, clay, or paved with brick.

While many of the details still need to be clarified, I can estimate that this structure will come in at 75% of the cost of the original schemes. The OPEQ team is working through the construction details and logistical concerns that will eventually lead to 22 of these structures to be built throughout the Mwenga territory of South Kivu.

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