In September 2016, MASS Design Group launched the African Design Centre in Kigali to train and empower the creative leaders who will design a more equitable, just and sustainable Africa. The program gives fellows the training and hands-on experience required to execute social impact driven solutions to the continent’s most pressing challenges.
Since its opening, the African Design Centre has operated as an innovation hub where creative minds learn and collaborate. The core of the program is an immersive design-build project, where fellows learn to practice a mission-driven process that includes Community Engagement, Design, Construction, and Evaluation. This is paired with classroom-based curriculum and research in emerging issues such as urbanization, affordable housing, and climate change. In its maiden year, it admitted 11 fellows from across the continent and the project that they designed, built, and opened in October 2018 was Ruhehe Primary School in Musanze District in the Northern Province of Rwanda.
In an overview of the school design process, the fellows immersed themselves in the community to understand the challenges but also uncover opportunities, like using a wall made of local volcanic stone to turn the entire campus into a space of play and active learning. They evaluated the environmental conditions and developed a roof system that maximized daylight and improved acoustic performance as one of the collaboratively attained solutions.
The school serves the surrounding communities, delivering education to 1200 students from pre-primary to primary six with the help of 18 teachers plus maintenance staff. The site, totaling an area of approximately 12,000m2, had 18 existing classrooms and a headmaster’s office. According to the fellows, the classrooms at Ruhehe did not meet most of the Ministry of Education standards and lacked many areas specified in the guidelines such as rooms for teachers and ICT rooms. Students’ experience within the classrooms was generally uncomfortable, with most classrooms inadequately protected from acoustic and climatic conditions. ADC Fellows and the partners looked to meet all the Ministry of Education standards, drive behavioral change and positively affect the lives of the Ruhehe Primary School students, teachers, and community through collaboration and redesign of the school.
The new design involved extending and renovating the existing school. It included five new classrooms, administration facilities, playscape, and a community plaza. The innovative design utilized locally sourced materials to create active learning spaces. Through observations and workshops with the teachers at Ruhehe, the fellows designed classrooms to accommodate the various layouts of learning activities with ease of flexibility. The design of the classrooms included a skylight that ensured adequate diffuse daylighting for reading and writing tasks. Utilizing a roof covering system of locally produced clay tiles helped reduce the sound of rain allowing learning to continue during storms.
ADC reports that 75% of the school budget was spent in Ruhehe Village and Musanze district and 80% of the materials were locally sourced within 50km. Even the steel used was from recycled source. 35% women were employed in skilled trades on site of which 60% were trained through the African Design Centre optional pilot onsite training program.
In a heavily celebrated opening day, Ruhehe School stood as an exemplary case of building with and by local community using local materials to create solutions that befit context, Africa, but are globally inspiring.