Library of Muyinga – BC architects

architects_ BC architects.
location_ Muyinga (BU)
construction year_ 2012
cooperation_ ODEDIM Muyinga NGO, Satimo vzw, Sint-Lucas Architecture University, Sarolta Hüttl, Sebastiaan De Beir, Hanne Eckelmans.
financial support_ Satimo vzw, Rotary Aalst, Zonta Brugge, Province of West-Flanders.
budget_ 40 000 €
participation and organisation_ BC studies and ODEDIM Muyinga

from the architects_ The first library of Muyinga, part of a future inclusive school for deaf children, built through a participatory approach in locally sourced compressed earth blocks.

Our work in Africa started within the framework of OpenStructures.net. BC was asked to scale the “Open structures” model to an architectural level. A construction process involving end-users and second-hand economies was conceived. Product life cycles, water resource cycles en energy cycles were connected to this construction process. This OpenStructures architectural model was called Case Study (CS) 1: Katanga, Congo. It was theoretical, and fully research-based. 5 years later, the library of Muyinga in Burundi nears completion.

Vernacular inspirations
A thorough study of vernacular architectural practices in Burundi was the basis of the design of the building. Two months of fieldwork in the region and surrounding provinces gave us insight in the local materials, techniques and building typologies. These findings were applied, updated, reinterpreted and framed within the local know-how and traditions of Muyinga.

The library is organized along a longitudinal covered circulation space. This “hallway porch” is a space often encountered within the Burundian traditional housing as it provides a shelter from heavy rains and harsh sun. Life happens mostly in this hallway porch; encounters, resting, conversation, waiting – it is a truly social space, constitutive for community relations.
This hallway porch is deliberately oversized to become the extent of the library. Transparent doors between the columns create the interaction between inside space and porch. Fully opened, these doors make the library open up towards the adjacent square with breathtaking views over Burundi’s “milles collines” (1000 hills).

On the longitudinal end, the hallway porch flows onto the street, where blinders control access. These blinders are an important architectural element of the street facade, showing clearly when the library is open or closed. On the other end, the hallway porch will continue as the main circulation and acces space fot the future school.

A very important element in Burundian (and, generally, African) architecture is the very present demarcation of property lines. It is a tradition that goes back to tribal practices of compounding family settlements. For the library of Muyinga, the compound wall was considered in a co-design process with the community and the local NGO. The wall facilitates the terracing of the slope as a retaining wall in dry stone technique, low on the squares and playground of the school side, high on the street side. Thus, the view towards the valley is uncompromised, while safety from the street side is guaranteed.

The general form of the library is the result of a structural logic, derived on one hand from the material choice (Compressed Earth Blocks masonry and baked clay roof tiles). The locally produced roof tiles were considerably more heavy than imported currogated iron sheets. This inspired the structural system of closely spaced columns at 1m30 intervals, which also act as buttresses for the high walls of the library. This rhytmic repetition of columns is a recognizable feature of the building, on the outside as well as on the inside. The roof has a slope of 35% with an overhang to protect the unbaked CEB blocks, and contributes to the architecture of the library.

Climatic considerations inspired the volume and facade: a high interior with continuous cross-ventilation helps to guide the humid and hot air away. Hence, the façade is perforated according to the rhythm of the Compressed Earth Blocks (CEB) masonry, giving the library its luminous sight in the evening.

The double room height at the street side gave the possibility to create a special space for the smallest of the library readers. This children’s space consist of a wooden sitting corner on the ground floor, which might facilitate cosy class readings. It is topped by an enormous hammock of sisal rope as a mezzanine, in which the children can dream away with the books that they are reading.

The future school will continue to swing intelligently through the landscape of the site, creating playgrounds and courtyards to accomodate existing slopes and trees. In the meanwhile, the library will work as an autonomous building with a finished design.

Social reintegration: reconnecting the deaf and blind community to broader society.
In a very informal and oral Burundian culture, deaf children are excluded from stories, information, exchange, education. Often, deaf children are isolated, or even expelled from a certain group of people. The library of Muyinga, linked to an inclusive boarding school for deaf children, creates the possibility to belong to a group, to belong to the wider community of Muyinga through public infrastructure as the first of its kind in Muyinga.

In a later stage, the school will further integrate its deaf students into broader society by a future school-based wood workshop, and a future polyvalent hall, both serving the wider community of Muyinga.

Intercultural Dialogue and participatory processes
Since several years or even decades, participatory design has taken a more prominent role in modern architecture. Some of these initiatives are very innovative but often fail to translate well-intended theory to real-life practice. BC architects & studies has focused from the beginning on the implementation of participatory processes in constructional practice.
We do this not only by cooperating with local workforces, but also by involving students, interns and young architects, in a mutual educational setting.

Also the organisation of the library is based on this pronciple. The board of the library includes all directors of neighboring primary and secondary schools, facilitating contact and cooperation between the future deaf students and the hearing students. The library will also host cinema-nights for the whole community of Muyinga.

Educational processes during construction
Different educational institutions contribute to this project. Summer school with LUCA architecture university Brussels: Every year 3-6 students join us to work on the field in Burundi for at least 6 weeks, supported by a scholarship of VLIR-UOS.
Experience trip for Zevenkerken High School: Every year, around 20-30 high school students come and enlarge their perspective during a 2 week stay in Burundi.

Architecture internships: every year 1-2 people join us for their architectural internship during at least 1 month.
Whatever the group, everyone joins in small on-site prototyping workshops on diverse topics such as CEB production, adobe production, earth analysis, bamboo weaving, sisal weaving, foundation solutions, furniture design, and so on, in an atmosphere of mutual contact and respect with local craftsmen, whereby knowledge of all involved is shared. These workshops bring an understanding of the direct social, cultural, ecological and economical effects of certain actions in a globalizing world: small scale actions do matter.

Short-chain economy, knowledge transfer, capacity building
All material research, design decisions and construction site organisation aims at keeping a short supply chain of expertise, labour, and materials. We try to reinforce the local economy by means of this short supply chain. We chose hand labour over machine labour when organizing earthworks; we hire only local labourers, a local foreman and local architect, to avoid the interference of a contractor from Bujumbura or Rwanda; we focus on the use of local materials such as earth for the masonry and finishing, clay for the roof and floor tiles, sisal for the hammock, Eucalyptus for the roof structure, and if we have to use cement, we try to do it as minimal as possible, wile buying it in the local shop.

Throughout the process of the construction, we try to create good conditions for knowledge transfer. The builders have mastered CEB production and construction, earth plaster through our input. We have mastered the sisal hammock weaving and the floor and roof tiles detailing through the input of the local builders, and so on. The knowledge transfer goes in all directions.

In the end, the construction process of the library will have built capacity. The foreman is considering mounting a CEB production facility to sell CEB blocks to Muyinga residents; 12 labourers have made it to mason-helpers or even masons during the process, which was celebrated according to the masons’ guild traditions; we have learned (and continue learning) how to act as architects in a globalizing world; the architecture students and interns have learned design with short-chain materials, to be applied in a Western construction context also. The capacity building process is endless and ongoing.

Courtesy of BC architects..