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The River School places classrooms around a central courtyard

Great design means different things to different people, but the best architectural design incorporates history, culture and functionality. In addition to these paramount foundational elements, L’École du Fleuve (The River School) also presents a plan that relies on locally sourced, sustainable and recycled materials.

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The River School won second place in the international Archstorming competition, which called for designs for a school in Senegal. The designers, Tina Gao and Prathyusha Viddam with research support from Amy Zhang, aimed their finished project at honoring the history of the local area, where making and using buckets and baskets is standard. They also drew inspiration from the rivers around the Casamance region; these rivers are central to the culture and economy of the area, as is education.

Related: Green school in Bali shows students how to live sustainably

rendering of pathway between two adobe brick buildings

The competition was organized in conjunction with NGO Let’s Build My School (LBMS), a U.K.-based charity with a focus on building schools in developing countries, especially in remote areas with limited access. The brief for the competition outlined the need for using local, renewable materials and easy, affordable construction techniques. The idea is for community members to be able to use the design elements to build homes and other buildings by replicating the process.

rendering of wood desks and chalkboard inside room built with adobe bricks

L’École du Fleuve is situated to curve around an existing tree that provides a gathering space in the shade. Like a bend in a river, the building arcs with all classrooms facing the central courtyard. The doors for each classroom are composed of bamboo screens that can fully extend to open the classroom to the outdoors. Outside of the classrooms, gardens provide vegetables, which are then served from a small kitchen.

rendering of bathroom with brick walls

Sustainable building requires attention to water usage. The River School harvests water through a terraced rainwater channel in the courtyard. The water is then funneled into two percolation ponds. A PVC pipe inserted into each pond then disperses the water into the ground and back to the well. In addition, a collection tank in the restroom is filled with water collected from gutters along the roof.

rendering of gardens outside an adobe brick school building

Going back to the process of bucket making, the outer facade is made up of adobe bricks formed using plastic buckets as molds. The bricks are stacked in a pattern that resembles traditional baskets, paying tribute to the way Senegal’s women balance baskets on their heads. The process for laying the bricks allows for sunlight and ventilation within the space.

Primary walls are composed of easy-to-source natural materials, such as clay, sand and straw. A small amount of cement speeds up the process and stabilizes the structure. The roof trusses are made from locally grown bamboo in a process that the community can replicate in other buildings. 

+ Essential Design

Images via Essential Design

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