Cooking up a Storm

Architect Tim Burton discusses his work with the Richard Feilden Foundation to expand an exemplar carpentry school by Lake Kivu in the Karongi district of Rwanda.

Copyright Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

In the four years since its inception Rubengera Technical Secondary School (TSS)  has established a name as one of the best carpentry schools in Rwanda. As the school’s success has gathered pace, so has the need for the development of new facilities, and so the Richard Feilden Foundation (RFF) are now working to develop a new kitchen and refectory.

RFF was initially invited to help them develop their masterplan, with a team of volunteers, overseen by FCBStudios Associate Anja Grossmann, helping the school in its aim to provide new classrooms and amenities to support their increasing capacity.

As the kitchen and catering provision has become stretched, and when the existing kitchen building, borrowed from neighbours, was reclaimed late last year, the need for new facilities became critical and we moved from masterplanning to developing a detailed design for a new kitchen and refectory to act as the social heart of the school and the community.

The brief for the new kitchen was for it to be built as fast as possible, be a well-ventilated safe environment and reduce fuel bills where possible. The timber built refectory will follow and is intended to be a showcase for the school’s technical expertise and the potential of timber as a construction material that is currently little used in Rwanda.

The kitchen is to incorporate both a traditional style Rwandi charcoal burning oven, which the existing kitchen team would be happy to use, alongside new amenities including a gas powered cooker. Although a fossil fuel, moving a large proportion of cooking to bottled gas is intended to significantly reduce the fuel bill of the school.

Following research by architectural assistant Henry Lascelles, the Rwandi charcoal burning oven has evolved into a proposal for four highly-efficient rocket stoves that can burn both small diameter wood fuel or sawdust briquettes, made from workshop cast-offs, in an insulated chamber. The rocket stoves will be served by a brick chimney with additional cross ventilation from perforated walls to alleviate the smoky and unhealthy environment currently endured by the cooks.

The refectory is to be an open and well lit timber structure suitable for large gatherings and festive occasions with column-free space created by large eucalyptus trusses with glulam sections. Natural cooling will be facilitated by lifting the roof line off the main truss to allow escape of warm air and the creation of a temperate internal environment.

A sequence of gable roofs will unify the kitchen and refectory spaces. They will provide a connection between the classrooms and residences whilst also mediating between the scale of the relatively large workshops and domestically sized student housing.

Timber cladding will unify the two parts of the building and provide shading for the terraces. One of our current focuses is the research of suitable options for dipping or treating these elements to provide suitable protection from insects whilst keeping maintenance obligations light.  

Rubengera TSS, having already done much to bring about positive change and a brighter future for its local community, aims to set a new benchmark in carpentry schools that raises the standards of teaching practice in a supportive learning environment within excellent new facilities. The future prospects of the students are strengthened through their craft and their teaching in teamwork and leadership skills. It’s hoped that long term significant improvements will be brought about in the professional practice of the country’s carpenters and in the Rwandan timber industry.

Already heralded as an exemplar school, staff are carrying out their mission supported by an expanding group of collaborators and partners. Most notable amongst these are: the Abaja ba Kristo Sisters, with Sister Marie-Louise as director of the school whose nuns help oversee all daily tasks; technical director Theophile Ndoreyaho; and an assortment of volunteers and reps from German NGOs; with additional support from the Rwandan government and international aid. It has also been guided by the energy and vision of vocational trainer and carpenter Tim Bluthardt.

With all the building permissions for the kitchen and refectory now received, it is hoped the kitchen will be operational by the end of the year, and as RFF continues its involvement to oversee the masterplan development and help with the delivery of student residences, guesthouses and other accommodation including the refectory, these should complete in 2018.

Tim Burton

The Richard Feilden Foundation seeks to use its resources to empower communities. We aim to improve both the educational infrastructure, and the teaching and learning opportunities that are available for children and young people in Africa, that will serve as exemplar models of practice to others.


**1. Carpentry students at Rubengera TSS © Tim Bluthardt for Rubengera TSS

2. The existing kitchen at Rubengera TSS © Tim Burton for Richard Feilden Foundation

3. Rubengera TSS masterplan

4. Sketch for the Rubengera TSS new refectory and kitchen

5. Sketch for  the new refectory

6. Kitchen site progress photo © Clement Ingabire for Rubengera TSS