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As Africa’s cities experience explosive growth, the continent will need designers to build critical infrastructure in a sustainable way. Otherwise, health and environmental crises will undermine the continent’s potential. MASS design group has created the African Design Centre, a field-based apprenticeship/fellowship that is set to be the BAUHAUS of Africa, intended to train the next generation of human-centered designers.

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Christian Benimana is the Rwanda programs director with MASS Design Group. He currently leads the implementation of the African Design Center. In a keynote speech at a summit last year Benimana pointed out that he is one of very few African architects. He cited that Italy alone has 153 000 designers, in comparison to only 35 000 across the whole African continent. The African Design Center is a step towards closing this deficit.

Christian Benimana

We need architects and builders… We need systems designers, we need product designers, doers and makers, we need a whole community of human-centred African designers.”

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“My audacious dream is to create the first African Design Centre,” says Benimana. “We need architectures and builders… We need systems designers, we need product designers, doers and makers, we need a whole community of human-centred African designers.”

The African Design Center offers a two-year fellowship to the most promising graduates, supported by leading intellectuals from across the world. The graduates from the ADC will be placed in government organisations to drive and inform policy making, will be at the head of future educational institutions to pass their skills on to new generations, and will create business that will create jobs that will drive the economy.

“If we ignore who designs the African cities and how, we are doomed to see the worst environmental degradation, the worst economic inequality and the worst public health disasters. We have to build the creative leadership that is going to make Africa equitable and just. Because that is the only future we want for Africa.”

The program seeks to pursue the training in the following ways;

Design-Build

Under the guidance of project managers, Fellows will experience projects through the four stages: Community Engagement, Design, Construction, and Evaluation. Fellows experience first-hand the benefits of impact driven design and the power of incorporating Local Fabrication in the building process. Fellows will gain experience in all aspects of the building process, from structural systems to working hand-in-hand with craftsmen to build furniture.

Research

Under the guidance of faculty, fellows will work independently and in teams to study some of the most pressing issues on the continent including urbanization, climate change, and social equity to name a few. Fellows will also focus on building technology science to study and develop new contextually optimized products and processes to address these wide ranging issues. Research will be carried out with the goal of integration into government policy.

Seminars

Fellows will participate in classroom based lectures and workshops to build their technical skills and a background in theory. Building upon the interdisciplinary nature of the group, fellows will continue to broaden their horizons working with craftsmen and artisans. Soft skills such as leadership will also be a core aspect of the ongoing skill development.

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Though the inaugural fellowship has already commenced to be concluded in 2018, it remains a laudable initiative that should be either supported or emulated across the continent.

You can find out more details about the fellowship here.

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