The concept for Straw Bale School in Malawi is an example of making the best use of locally available resources while taking into account the local social, economic and climatic constraints. The concept focused on embracing vernacular architecture to create a building that fits in the geographical context, and encourages community participation as well.
A humble abode for learning, it is a design proposal for a secondary school in East African country Malawi, 30 kms west of the Ntchisi Forest Reserve.
The concept was developed by Mumbai-based architecture and design firm called Nudes, in response to a brief set by Archstorming for an architectural competition on behalf of an NGO called Active Africa. The competition called for a sustainable, modular structure that could be built and expanded over the years.
Nuru Karim, the founder and principal of Nudes, explained, “The brief focused on modularity, incremental expansion, deployment, and sustainable technologies to which the design has attempted to respond efficiently.” A modular ‘ladder’ component has been designed to create a structural system that houses the pedagogical intent of the school. The 'ladder' component is incrementally arrayed along a path to explore inside-outside relations where learning environments are being provided. The angle defining the ladder has been determined to explore both horizontal and vertical conditions. The 'horizontal' condition explores out-of-the-classroom learning activities including spaces for amphitheatres, outdoor workshops and passive recreational activities, while the 'vertical' conditions render height as well as wind circulation and light into the spaces through various openings.
The benefit of a module-based design is that it provides the opportunity of multiplication and expansion in the future. With simple techniques and fool-proof methodologies, the module can be repeated and used as per the requirements. "A single module composed of arrayed components has been aggregated across the site to create this simple growth expansion strategy for the entire school," explained the team.
“Apart from being efficient, easy to execute and aesthetically pleasing, the ‘ladder’ component houses both technological and pedagogical components. The overall philosophy is based on the ‘bottom-up’ design process that encourages local materials and community participation. The techniques and methodologies used have been derived efficiently from local inspirations,” the team further elaborated.
An important aspect of the project is the use of ‘straw bale cubes’. This local material is injected with voids for light and ventilation to create a breathable skin. The bales of straw are renewable, cost-effective, and fire-resistant.
Nudes also explored the possibilities of using other materials as alternatives. “In addition, local material infills such as earth, terracotta, have the opportunity of further being explored. The entire system has been devised to explore ease of repairs and future maintenance advocating local construction practices,” added Karim. The design also includes modular timber framework and wooden frames.
The zoning of the spaces encapsulates each individual module with the functions required for the efficient working of the school. The architectural programme explores classroom environments, administration spaces, learning resources such as computer rooms, library, laboratory and research areas. In addition, designated spaces are planned for animals, and multipurpose areas and residential components for students and teachers.
Karim summarised the design philosophy by saying, “The design of the school embraces the role of the vernacular in shaping the future. The design is built on the cornerstone of ‘pedagogy’, ‘deployment’ and ‘sustainability’ advocating the role of local materials and community as well as student participation.”
Though the design by Nudes did not win the competition, the architecture firm plans to develop prototypes to test its potential further.
Project DetailsName of the project: Straw Bale School
Location: Malawi, Africa
Architects: Nudes, Mumbai
Design team: Nuru Karim, Dhruval Shah, Salai VV, Aditya Jain, Uttara Rajawat, Anjana Varma, Rohit DJ
Founder and Principal: Nuru Karim