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Designing a Local Solution in Tanzania

10/21/2010

When Interior Architecture major Laura Sussman spent a month in Tanzania the summer before her senior year, she didn’t anticipate that the experience would spur an independent project at RISD. But while she was working in Pommerin, a small village a full-day’s drive from Dar Es Salaam, the head of the village’s secondary school heard that she was an interior architecture student and asked for her help in redesigning the school’s dining hall.

Sussman took a closer look at the existing facility, analyzed the site and did a few quick sketches. Her hope, she told the headmaster, was to collaborate with other RISD students and faculty to address the problem comprehensively.

Once she was back on campus, Sussman teamed up with architecture senior Elliott Olson to focus on the challenge through an independent research and design studio. Working with Professor Liliane Wong, the two set out to design a new facility that could be built by the school’s 900 students for $15,000 or less.

Wong’s own studios tend to focus on design for inclusion, requiring students to go beyond their own milieu to explore how design can be used to address the tangible needs of the poor and homeless. For the project in Tanzania, she helped Sussman and Olson to “immerse themselves in the mores of the culture, to fully weigh the construction capabilities of the children and to look at modern precedents in Africa” in terms of materials, structure and form.

“We thought a lot about how to utilize mud bricks and other local materials,” Olson explains. They also worked to address perennial problems in that part of Africa such as water supply. “When I was there, the kids would carry water up from a small river in buckets,” Sussman explained. “But it’s hard work and depending on the season, the river can almost dry out.”

After multiple iterations in which they stripped their complicated idea for the facility down to its essence, Olson and Sussman presented plans for an open-sided dining pavilion with earth flooring. Simple and aesthetically appealing, the 3,200-sf dining hall features a cantilevered corrugated tin roof that allows rainwater to be collected in a cistern below and used for washing and other grey-water needs. Sliding panels of corrugated tin provide protection from the elements around the periphery of the pavilion, which is built from simple wood framing and local mud bricks. “The design takes advantage of every single economy possible and is much stronger as a result,” Wong concluded.

related links:

Liliane Wong
Pommerin Water Project 
tags: global, interdisciplinary, local/global, nonprofits, Interior Architecture, public engagement, STEAM, students, sustainability

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The men in this 1903 portrait class were serious about the business at hand.