Issue 24Soil, Bricks and the RFF

When Anja Grossmann volunteered to help with the Richard Feilden Foundation (RFF), little did she know that working in Uganda would become one of the most rewarding architectural experiences to date.

When Anja Grossmann volunteered to help with the Richard Feilden Foundation (RFF), little did she know that working in Uganda would become one of the most rewarding architectural experiences to date.

"Facts and figures are daunting: Uganda has the third fastest growing population worldwide, with half of the people below the age of 15. It is, and will continue to be, a huge challenge to provide education in this country to all".

Over the last 10 years, the Richard Feilden Foundation has been working on a variety of educational projects in East Africa, and is always on the look-out for the next project in the right location and with the right partner. Teaming up with HYTUganda, an NGO (Non Governmental Organisation) training local people in sustainable construction techniques, we have found the perfect partnership to build a school staff accommodation building in St Mulumba, Kamuli District.

Facts and figures are daunting: Uganda has the third fastest growing population worldwide, only behind Niger and Somalia (Source: UNFPA/BBC), with half of its people below the age of 15 (Source: UN - ESA). It is, and will continue to be, a huge challenge to provide education in this country to all.

This project is a small contribution but crucial nevertheless. During the rainy season, when the dirt roads turn into mud making travel impossible, teachers who often live far won’t make it to school for days, so accommodation on site is critical to enable continuity in the curriculum and provide essential primary school education.

The building is primarily constructed using ISSB - an Interlocking Stabilised Soil Brick consisting of locally dug soil, dampened and mixed with a little cement that is then pressed and cured. It doesn’t need firing thus helping to mitigate deforestation, and only requires a small amount of mortar due to its interlocking qualities, saving raw materials, helping to reduce cost - quite simply being very sustainable!

We wanted to make the floor plan as flexible as possible - two bedrooms and an open plan living/ eating/ cooking area, so the house could be used by one family, or two teachers. A pitched roof with alcoves provides storage or additional sleeping bunks, and projects over the external terrace to protect from the sun as well as torrential downpours.

To maximise natural ventilation we experimented with numerous hit and miss brick formations, with gaps small enough to provide privacy but big enough to let air through, arranged in geometric patterns.

Getting carried away with architectural composition back in the UK, we were in for a reality check on site. Firstly; we had to explain what an ‘architect’ actually does for a living and secondly; we had to communicate how to read a drawing. However it turned out that there is some real hidden talent amongst the builders and, paired with inquisitiveness and a surprisingly quick understanding of construction principles, the entire team was a joy to work with.

The building is currently on site and due to be finished for the next school term in Spring 2016.

We hope to be able to use the ISSB brick again and to continue to make a small impact on education in Africa. But the best bit of the journey yet was to meet a child that greets you with the biggest beautiful smile you’ve ever seen. 

Anja Grossmann

Images:

1. The HYT team
2. ISSB Interlocking Stabilised Soil Bricks
3. Developing the design: using foam bricks to experiment with numerous hit and miss brick formations
4. Pupils at St Mulumba enjoying the shade during a break
5. The brick press in action
6. The site
7. Progress on site February 2016 ©Marcus Farnfield HYTUganda