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Burkina Faso has developed methods for constructing schools that remain cool in extreme 40C temperatures, eliminating the need for air conditioning.
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Burkina Faso has developed methods for constructing schools that remain cool in extreme 40C temperatures, eliminating the need for air conditioning.

If architects are people who like to think their way around challenges, building schools in Burkina Faso must be the dream job. The challenges, after all, are legion: scorching temperatures in the high seasons, limited funds, materials, electricity and water, and clients who are vulnerable and young. How do you keep a building cool under a baking sun when there is no air conditioning?

The architect Diébédo Francis Kéré was raised in the village of Gando and is familiar with its difficulties. He, along with fellow architect Albert Faus, are devising clever methods to utilize affordable materials in order to create comfortable and inviting schools and orphanages throughout Burkina Faso.

In 2022, Kéré was awarded the Pritzker prize for architecture. He has expressed heartfelt gratitude for his community’s support during his childhood, as they all contributed financially to his education when he left the village. This enabled him to receive a scholarship and study in Germany. Kéré has stated that his motivation for his work is rooted in his community.

Gando primary school, built in 2001, was Kéré’s first construction after completing his studies. “At first, my community didn’t understand why I wanted to build with clay when there were glass buildings in Germany, so I had to convince them to use the local materials,” Kéré has said. Men and women came together to build the school, merging traditional techniques such as clay floors, beaten by hand until they were “smooth as a baby’s bottom” with more modern technology to seek better comfort.

Children in the courtyard of the Noomdo orphanage.View image in fullscreen

The orphanage called Noomdo was one of his endeavors. Pierre Sanou, a social worker at the orphanage located near Koudougou in the Centre-Ouest region of Burkina Faso, explains, “The Kéré building offers us excellent thermal comfort. We stay cool when it’s hot outside and warm when it’s cold.” He adds, “Our energy consumption is significantly reduced as we do not require air conditioning.” In this part of the world, temperatures can reach up to 40C (104F) during the hottest period.

Sanou explains that Kéré utilizes local materials, specifically laterite stone, in the construction of buildings in Burkina Faso. The focus is on minimizing the use of concrete, which is costly and requires transportation to the site, as well as produces waste. The buildings are designed to promote natural air flow and provide protection from the sun. This is achieved through sturdy walls and lightweight roofs, allowing cool air to enter from below and push out hot air from above. Eduardo González, from the Architecture School of Madrid, emphasizes the importance of integrating these elements into Kéré’s designs.

González incorporates an ingenious idea from the past by utilizing raised and extended metal roofs in his project at Noomdo. These rooms are covered by a shallow barrel vault supported by a concrete beam, featuring openings. A metal plate sits above the vault to shield it from the sun and rain, while also releasing hot air. González cites the Persian Gulf’s vernacular architecture as the inspiration for this technique, and notes that Kéré has successfully incorporated it into modern designs in Burkina Faso.

Gando primary school

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The semicircle-shaped orphanage prioritizes the privacy of its underage residents, who often come from vulnerable backgrounds. The building is separated into boy and girl dormitories, with the administration area acting as a bridge between them. To protect the children’s privacy and safety, the structure is divided into three visibility zones. The first is the entrance area with a common room and kitchen. Beyond that is the interior common space, only accessible with authorization. The dormitory courtyards are in the most secluded area. According to Sanou, there are quiet spaces for the children to relax. The building does not have any fences or barbed wire.

In the vicinity, the Youlou village’s Bangre Veenem school complex, created by Faus, incorporates clever techniques for cooling the structure. Ousmane Soura serves as an educational consultant at the school. According to Soura, prior to constructing the school, Faus met with local leaders to acquire consent and to identify any sacred locations that may not be immediately apparent to outsiders.

A light, airy corridor in the Bangre Veenem school complex

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The campus caters to students from early childhood up to high school, as well as offering a professional education option. Soura notes, “The students don’t complain about the heat and ask to leave because they feel at ease and can focus on their classes.”

The structure is constructed using bricks created from local laterite stone. Laterite is molded, sun-dried, and results in a brick with a vibrant red hue. According to Soura, these bricks are better able to withstand bullets compared to concrete blocks, which typically have two holes in the middle.

Additionally, Faus successfully reduced the need for transporting materials by utilizing materials found within the territory. The quarry workers were also hired from the local area. According to Soura, the material used was of high quality and has motivated families to send their children to school upon seeing the buildings. The complex also serves as a gathering place for teenagers to converse inside the classrooms during breaks or holidays, highlighting its open and inviting atmosphere.

Burkina Faso ranks 184th out of 191 countries in the Human Development Index and as of late 2020, only 22.5% of its population had access to electricity, according to data from the African Development Bank. “Students can come at night to study and charge their phones because there is light thanks to solar panels,” Soura says.

Students are able to concentrate better due to the comfortable temperature in the classroom. When the students, administration, and teachers all work together effectively and the classroom environment is favorable, the outcomes will improve. It is well known that hot weather can impede student learning, causing exhaustion and a preference for sleeping.

Source: theguardian.com