WEbuilding is a Berlin-based non-profit organization founded by an international group of young architects, united by a common purpose: to help deprived communities through sustainable public building projects.
The organization’s current project involves the construction of a school in the village of Damang in Ghana’s Eastern Region, 50 kilometers from Accra. The area currently possesses only one school for the children of the village and the many smaller surrounding communities. The new school — which will consist of an early childhood center and a primary and secondary school, accommodating a total of 560 children — would represent a huge step forward in this regard; it would also set a higher learning standard and provide equal educational opportunities for boys and girls.
WEbuilding employs sustainable, cheap and esthetically attractive materials in a way that is innovative, yet respects local culture. During a trip to Ghana last winter, the WEbuilding team discussed possible solutions with their partner, the local NGO Volunteer Partnerships for West Africa, who own the land on which the school is to be built, and consulted with local builders who combine technology and tradition in their work.
The layout of the school reflects both environmental and social considerations: the complex will be divided into three building clusters, each consisting of several structures built mainly of compressed earth blocks, situated around a central courtyard in the manner of a local village. The first phase, for which WEbuilding is now raising funds, will include an early childhood center and a lavatory; as additional funds become available, this core complex will be complemented with two others, which will house a primary and a secondary school.
After much planning, and after overcoming all bureaucratic hurdles, WEbuilding is now entering the next phase of its project: crowdfunding. Over the past year, the organization raised enough money to finance the construction of the first classroom; in February, it launched a crowdfunding campaign on Generosity to raise the additional 22.000$ necessary to complete the first three units, and to allow construction to begin.
Support WEbuilding Crowdfunding Campaign here
The school’s purpose is twofold: to provide a positive learning environment for 500 children, and to demonstrate the advantages of some simple and inexpensive architectural design decisions. To this end, the architects set themselves a number of additional goals, including: a flexible floorplan that can be built in phases and altered if necessary, a simple method of construction, the reduction of the length of the outer fence/wall, better natural ventilation, and the use of innovative construction techniques that complement current local building methods.
The finished complex will consist of 15 identical 7x7m units, grouped to form three inner courtyards corresponding to three phases of construction. These three clusters will house, respectively, the kindergarten/nursery, the primary school and the secondary school. This layout, which departs from the usual longitudinal school design common in most African countries, is meant to create an atmosphere more similar to that of a small town, allowing children to experience a different environment and sense of scale.
This approach has technical advantages as well: reducing the size of the units will make it easier for each unit to adjust to the terrain slope, allowing for simpler foundations that require less digging; and the incorporation of the classroom units into the outer fence-wall will reduce the length of the wall from 260 to 95 meters. The decision to make all the units identical (including the lavatories, the office and the volunteers’ unit) will streamline construction, allowing local workers to master new techniques through repetition.
In terms of sustainability and the introduction of new building techniques, the project will meet current Ghanaian construction methods halfway: it will demonstrate how the basic building element in Ghana, the cement block — which is used ubiquitously, regardless of a building’s size or function — may be combined with other, more sustainable options. Due to the sloped terrain and the resulting lateral soil pressure, cement blocks, which are more resistant to humidty, together with a thin concrete slab, will be used in the foundations of the building.
In the upper part, however, they will be replaced with compressed earth blocks (CEB) manufactured on-site. CEB, introduced in the 1950s in South America, is a modern earth construction technique that evokes traditional adobe brick building, which, though still common in rural areas of Ghana, has become associated with poverty and is therefore regarded with contempt by the local population. This negative perception of a major sustainable building resource is a major problem that must be overcome in order for new ideas to take hold.
The project’s goal is thus not to invent new things, but rather to reintroduce already existing technologies, materials and design methods, paving the way for more far-reaching innovations which, in the long run, will provide a cheaper and more sustainable way to build.