architecture : urban : visual culture

School developement in Ghana

There's a school in Ghana which development had started years ago but due to financial difficulties it didn't get any further than building a part of the base slab. A keen group of architects from Hungary [Bogdán Funk, Balázs Szelecsényi, Orsolya Vadász, Diána Nusszer, Csinszka Cserháti] in close cooperation with the local management have revised the plans concerning sustainability and climatic conditions.

Newill Academy is a non-profit private school and nursery in Ghana which was founded in 2010 as an initiative of a local teacher in an empty storage building next to his mother's house. His aim was to provide quality daycare and education for families who suffer social disadvantage in the area, for the parents who can't afford to stay at home with their children. As the kids grew, the academy grew together with them, starting primary classes.

During the years the school became overcrowded and today some classes are staying on corridors or in temporary shelter-like structures. The development of the school facilities had already begun years ago but due to financial difficulties it didn’t get any further than building a part of the base slab. Maybe we can say fortunately. The original plans were showing a characterless, unsustainable building with statically underdimensioned structures. At this point a keen group of architects from Hungary in close cooperation with the local management have revised the plans concerning sustainability and climatic conditions.




The small building plot and the partially finished base slab were the main limitations during the design progress. We kept the three stories building with the L shaped floor plan from the original proposals but optimized the openings and the corridor system, created community spaces and developed the connection with the courtyard.

The local administration made the changes easy since the permit progress in Ghana is mainly about paying the fees and the plans are only a secondary issue. In our case the permit was given for a three story school building with 12 classrooms without any plans handed in for the office, so keeping these parameters we could modify the building freely.




The main design issues on tropical climate is the provision of shadow and ventilation which we exerted to reach by applying deep set louver windows, large overhanging of the roof, perforated walls of the classrooms and the interleaved bamboo facade of the corridor.

As architect from the so-called developed civilization it is always a difficult question how to behave in the third world. The role of example or at best catalyst, is inevitable. Local people unconsciously view everything brought by white people as development and trying to copy it, often without understanding. The bookshelf of the Ghanaian Draughtsman – often the designer of smaller buildings – is packed with books about American houses, impressing the clients and drawing inspiration. The building solutions developed during the centuries became forgotten, out of trend. The traditionally well shadowed and naturally ventilated buildings are replaced by glass towers which have to be cooled continuously under the strong sunshine. The electric network is congested and power failures become more and more often. It is a huge responsibility to do anything as European in this situation. Therefore we cooperate closely with the local community with the aim that they understand the school building and view it as their own. Maybe one day local materials and sustainable solutions become trendy again – in a contemporary composition.

 


Ventilation

The roof is elevated from the top slab and covered by metal sheet. This is not just the cheapest suitable material but also warms up quickly under the sun so it can work as a solar chimney, providing natural ventilation for the classrooms by the ascending hot air.

We have designed two additional elements to improve passive cooling, but the feasibility of these depends on the further examination of the soil and on the financial situation. The air intake into the classrooms would be through an adiabatic wind catcher tower. This technology was already known since ancient times and still in use in the vernacular architecture of different continents. It is based on the heat absorbing effect of evaporation. When the wind blows through the evaporating tower, the cooled air descends to the bottom of the tower. The air is lead into the building through an earth tunnel cooling system, providing further temperature drop.




Water treatment

Due to the unreliable water supply a rainwater harvesting and grey water recycling system is planned. The rainwater collected from the large roof area is prescreened and led into an underground tank after which it slowly percolates through a biofilm slow sand filter into the sterile buffer tank. Then the water is pumped into the pressure tank which is located under the roof and supplies the toilets. The water used for hand washing gets into a grey water tank after prescreening and used for the toilets. The used water enters into a common septic tank and is subsequently removed regularly. A waterless compost toilet was considered as alternative, but this is hardly a suitable solution for a multistorey building.





Construction

The school is planned to be built in three phases with the cooperation of local professionals and international volunteers. Since the school has to operate continuously, the work has to be done during the summer holidays. We are running a crowdfunding campaign to provide the finances and also looking for volunteers to work on site. More information can be found here (facebook.com/newillacademy), this page will also be updated with the news about the construction.

The architects

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