Architecture as a Transformative Social Power

Much more than a container

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Architecture and design are tools that can generate positive and valuable changes in society. This is precisely the reason for the existence of foundawtion, a nonprofit organization established in Barcelona in 2014 that began working in Senegal to respond to local needs through ecological building and design.

The foundation’s identity is based on its willingness to highlight design and bioclimatic architecture in all the projects it works on. In contrast to what is usually understood as social architecture—industrialized, prefabricated, and low-cost—we work with materials linked to the region, with local construction techniques, and in full collaboration with the community. The vernacular wisdom combined with our contribution result in buildings that make the local community proud and are much more than simple containers that fulfill their role.

The architectural firm behind the foundation’s projects is dawoffice, a multidisciplinary team with a work methodology based on the continuous exchange of ideas between all team members.

Two of its most representative eco architecture projects are the CEM Kamanar, a secondary school for 500 students in the south of Senegal, and the Atelier de Bois, a carpentry workshop in the same region. The former has an impact on society through education, a fundamental pillar for the development of any society; the latter through job training in the region.

Library, CEM Kamanar Secondary School, Thionk Essyl, Senegal, 2021, dawoffice. Photo © Coke Bartrina

CEM Kamanar

The requirements and needs for the CEM Kamanar, which is located in the town Thionk Essyl, were determined by design principles that guarantee climate comfort and low-cost bioconstruction. This can be achieved by making the most of local materials and the potential of the local community. The region’s most abundant material is clay, which is why it became the project’s main construction material.

Clay is a material that works under compression; therefore, creating a covered space with it posed a challenge that was solved by opting for the geometry of catenary arches. This geometry has been widely used in traditional Catalan architecture as it is the only way to cover a space without requiring bending elements, such as wood or iron. In Senegal, they were made with compressed clay blocks manufactured at the site with local techniques used for generations.

The school is understood as a system that is adaptable over time. Each arch is a module that can be arranged within a grid, allowing for the school’s growth by building new classrooms as needed.

Sports area, CEM Kamanar Secondary School, Thionk Essyl, Senegal, 2021, dawoffice. Photo © Claudia Mauriño

The space covering each arch is closed with two wooden lattices that allow lighting and air circulation from north to south. This ventilation and the porosity of clay provide the “water cooling pitcher (botijo) effect” so that there is no need to resort to mechanical air conditioning systems. The arches are covered by a metal sheet that prevents the direct incidence of rain on the clay and provides an air chamber in the shade.

This affordable solution respects the environment and local traditions, which are highly valued by its users.

Atelier de Bois

The Atelier Bois is a carpentry workshop also located in Thionck Essyl. The project’s main premise is to work with local materials and techniques, which is why the initial excavation became the site’s quarry. By transforming the plot’s soil, we reduced the transport of materials to the minimum and, thus, the associated environmental footprint.

Interior, carpentry workshop Atelier de Bois, Thionck Essyl, Senegal, 2019, dawoffice, Photo © Jara Varela.

The roof, made of local redwood profiles and finished with a corrugated metal sheet, does not cover the facade-fence made of CEB (compressed earth block) and the space it confines is a covered work area surrounded by a courtyard that widens in the southwest part. The layout of the central part of the rectangle is organized on a slab of reinforced clay finished with black and white glazed ceramic material. It is distributed in an ample space for the wood thicknessing machine, a space with tables for furniture assembly, and a small office separated by a bookshelf. The space surrounding the slab is finished with native palm husk, thus draining the areas susceptible to wetting in the rainy season.

Main image: CEM Kamanar Secondary School, Thionck Essyl, Senegal, 2021, dawoffice. Photo © Claudia Mauriño

Produced by Andrés Altamarino

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