I came across this inspiring story and project by architect Sharon Davis whose first project (a year after architecture graduate school) was the Women’s Opportunity Center in the village of Kayonza, Rwanda.
The nonprofit organization Women for Women International received land to build the opportunity center in Rwanda and wanted a female architect to design it, in the person of Davis. This was “uncharted territory” for the almost 40 year old architect but upon her first site visit to Rwanda, the focus of the design became clear.
The project required a safe gathering place as well as a space that could create economic opportunity and a solid social infrastructure, thus her concept was to create a type of village comprising of a series of low-rise pavillions built on a circular pattern. This village would feature a farmers market, community space, gardens and guest accommodations on the outer edges of the circle while classrooms would sit at the heart of the site.
The result was a contemporary, intimate mini-village that punctuates the rural landscape of Kayonza, with interconnected, circular structures that women travel freely between to socialize, learn, and set up business.
Inspired by the historic King’s Palace in southern Rwanda, The circular structures are composed of 450,000 clay bricks made by Rwandan women using a manual press method adapted from local building techniques. Gaps in the brickwork would bring in air and light. The roofs were designed to accommodate a rainwater collection system. The potable water gathered in the collection system could then be sold by women at the center’s market.