The project was the Women’s Opportunity Center in the village of Kayonza, Rwanda, commissioned by the nonprofit organization Women for Women International.
Her firm, Sharon Davis Design, recently shared with us more extensive detail about the project. These include diagrams, drawings, models and an extensive gallery of images highlighting the construction process and various milestones of the project, such as the manual technique used by Rwandan women volunteers to make the 450,000 clay bricks that are the literal “building-blocks” of most of the structures.
On a one-hectare site in Rwanda, the most densely populated country in Africa, the Women’s Opportunity Center is a change-making campus that empowers one small community and, in turn, reframes the way we as architects engage the world.
CONTEXT AND TERRAIN
We chose the idea of a vernacular Rwandan village as our organizing principle: a series of human-scaled pavilions clustered to create security and community for up to 300 women. Created in collaboration with our client, Women for Women International—a humanitarian organization helping women survivors of wars rebuild their lives—this mini-village in Rwanda transforms unsustainable urban agglomeration and subsistence farming with an architectural agenda to create economic opportunity, rebuild social infrastructure, and restore cultural heritage.
THE SITE LAYOUT
Our design revives a lost Rwandan housing tradition with rich spatial and social layers. Its circular forms radiate from intimate classrooms to a community space, farmer’s market, guest lodging, and the civic realm beyond. The center’s circular structures are modeled after the historic King’s Palace in southern Rwanda, whose woven-reed dwellings were part of an indigenous tradition that the region had all but lost. Our design draws on the delicacy of this vernacular Rwandan construction method with rounded, perforated brick walls that allow for passive cooling and solar shading, while maintaining a sense of privacy.
BRICK COURSING AND DESIGN FOR CLASSROOMS
The design builds support for Rwanda’s social infrastructure through guest lodging facilities that allow donors and partner organizations to experience the Opportunity Center first-hand. These lodges serve as a conduit for initiatives that build one-to-one relationships between women in Kayonza and sponsors around the world, expanding the center’s social footprint through a sustaining global network.
The 450,000 clay bricks needed for the construction were made from clay adjacent to the site by local Rwandan women (the center’s future users), using a durable manual press method which we adapted from local building techniques. As a result, women have learned marketable, income-generating skills and are now being hired as masons in the area. This has helped create income opportunities and spur social solidarity.
The project also includes a demonstration farm that helps women produce and market their own goods. This Commercial Integrated Farming Initiative teaches women to produce income from the land through organic techniques geared toward commercial production. Through compact, easily maintained animal pens and classrooms— cooled by green roofs and retained earth walls—women learn to raise pigs, cows, goats, and rabbits, along with food storage and processing methods that can be used to run their own food cooperatives profitably.
FARM /FARM STORAGE
Set around an inviting plaza easily reached by motorists and public transit, a market showcases the center’s economic potential. Here, women sell food, textiles, baskets, and other products produced on site, as well as potable water harvested from the center’s rooftops. Market spaces can be rented to generate additional income, building a self-sufficient community network in Kayonza.
As well as designing innovative buildings that allow passive cooling and solar shading, our global network of consultants tapped African entrepreneurs to create water purification, biogas, and other sustainable systems that can now be produced and maintained by Rwandans for Rwandans. Hygienic composting toilets replaced the more traditional pit-latrines, reducing water use while capturing nitrogen-rich waste.
Brick by brick, together with the county’s women, we’re building big change. The Women’s Opportunity Center is a teaching tool that empowers more than 300 women annually to transcend a legacy of conflict. In their lives and stories, we have found the locally inspired grounds for a globally resonant architecture of optimism.
CONSTRUCTION PROCESS IMAGES
DESIGNER: Sharon Davis Design
31 Perry Street
New York, NY 10014
Sharon Davis, Principal
Bruce Engel, Lead Designer, Project Manager
Samuel Keller, Designer
Jeff Wandersman, Designer
Dong Ping Wong, Designer
Damen Hamilton, Designer
Molly Cronin, Designer
Laura Cheung, Designer
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: OSD ENGINEERING
9 Revere Road
Bell Mead, New Jersey 08502 USA
Telephone: +1 (908) 359-8977
Fax: +1 (908) 428-6851
Contact: Arun Rimal, P.E.
WATER MNGMT ENGINEER: eDesignDynamics
402 West 40th Street
New York, NY 10018
Contact: Eric Rothstein
LANDSCAPE DESIGN: XS Space and Susan Maurer (Julie Farris)
370 Clinton Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231
Contact: Julie Farris