Climatically and Culturally Responsive Architecture
Unless this is your first visit to our blog you probably know by now that Design Cause believes that architecture has a greater role in society than just creating beautiful buildings. Architecture has the power to solve real problems and impact how people go about their daily lives. When dealing with developing countries and limited resources there are two main considerations that need to be well thought out in order for the design to be truly impactful; how the building responds climatically and culturally.
As you continue reading you will hear about some of the climatic and cultural design responses that were implemented into the design of St. Andrews School.
First let's talk about climatic response. It may seem obvious why site and climate are important; it doesn’t take an architect to figure out a glass house wouldn't fair well in the desert, but climate consideration in building projects without mechanical systems must go much deeper.
In the North Region of Cameroon where St. Andrew's School will be constructed, the community struggles with a very hot and dry season due to its proximity to the Sahara Desert. This ecological zone is called the dry savanna and is heavily affected by the extremely arid conditions just to the North. These high temperatures quickly heat up the interior of structures when air is not able to move through the space. This results in a heat trapping environment when temperatures can rise much higher than outside temperatures and make the space oppressive. One of the multiple ways that the design of St. Andrew's School addresses this issue is through the strategic use of venting. Large windows allow a cross breeze to move through the space, preventing stagnant hot air from suffocating the space. As cooler air enters and hot air rises, openings in the roof allow the hot air to be vented out of the space. These are just a few of the design choices based on climatic conditions that make the school a useable space during hot daytime hours.
Culture is a much harder subject to understand. Many humanitarian efforts throughout various fields have fallen short because the projects failed to understand the cultural needs of the community. Often times when trying to create an impact projects lose sight of the real problem that needs to be addressed. Truly understanding a culture and the needs of a community without imposing western ideals can be a tricky thing to do. This one reason Design Cause values participatory design. During the design process for St. Andrews school, Founder Kelsey Bradley not only did a lot of technical research but she spent time visiting the town of Ngong and meeting with community members. This part of the design process not only allowed to her make observations about daily life and community living but she was able to hear from community members what their expectations for the project entail. Upon meeting with the community one thing that became apparent is that the school would not only serve as a place for education but an area for social engagement for community members. Keeping this in mind, location of the two new classrooms were set amongst the existing buildings to create two new outdoor gathering spaces that are partially obstructed from the elements.
The design strategies discussed in this post are just of the few considerations that went into the design of St. Andrew's School. Although these strategies may not seem like any sort of major innovation they are small pieces of a whole that make up an impactful and useable space. One thing I have learned as I progress in my design career is that “you don't need to reinvent the wheel” to bring innovation and impact to a project; small changes can make a huge impact.