The Weave elementary school is located in the small town of Marsassoum around the Soungrougrou river in Senegal. The town is situated in a remote area where the main occupations of people are agriculture and fishing and the closest city to the site location is Ziguinchor- an hour’s drive away. The proposal is devised based on two factors; the first is the use of readily available materials that are local and low cost, and the other is the use of simple construction techniques that can be replicated by the local unskilled labor in the future as well.
The most readily available local material in Senegal is textiles, mainly cotton with different colors and patterns each of which represents different ethnic groups. The Weave elementary school uses textile as major construction material and also as an aesthetic building material that represents the Mandinka People – the largest ethnic group of Senegal.
The exclusive feature of the Weave elementary school is the use of fabric-formed rammed earth construction as a simple technology aligning with the local context. This technique is easy for low or semi-skilled laborers to construct and can be built using locally available materials like soil, bamboo, woven fabric, and timber. It imparts a water-resistant quality that is beneficial during heavy rainy seasons in Marsassoum and aesthetic traits to the design.
The Weave Elementary school design draws conscious effort to maximize educational opportunities for the students from indoors to outdoors gradually minimizing environmental stress. A tree exists in the middle of the school site which is included in the design to act as an educational hub and a central point for different activities. Considering the economic condition of the parents, the eastern side of the site is designed with a place for children to grow food and learn the whole agricultural process as well.
The center of the eastern side is proposed with a farm between a chicken coop and the canteen. The curved boundary of the farm is a low-height design that serves as seating for eating or other activities and it leads to the canteen entrance. The both north and south sides are planned with the classrooms having doors opening outward into the courtyard. Adjacent to the western entrance has positioned the offices and a library which allows the teachers and school management to keep an eye on who is coming inside the school premises. The secluded location of the library from the active middle and eastern areas provides a quiet environment for reading.
The climate of the area is very humid which mandates ventilation as a major design element governed with conscious orientation and designing of Weave elementary school. The door and windows are foldable which allows cross-ventilation throughout and access to wide-open courtyards whenever required. The doors of each classroom are graced with patterned textiles symbolic of the ethnicity of students and adding a dramatic trait to the school facade contrasting with the monolithic rammed earth walls.
The entrance to the school is in the middle of the west side which channels the flow of prevailing winds to the courtyard. The courtyard is shaded by the mono-pitched roof of the school that allows children to play and gather in a cool atmosphere during the daytime. The roof design also serves to collect the running down rainwater. As Marsassoum is hot for most of the year, so to reduce the excessive heat transmission from the roof to the classrooms, hanging fabric under the steel truss is used.
The design of Weave Elementary school proposal is symbolic of how earthen building techniques can be used for the optimum use of environmental factors such as sun, wind, and rainfall. The Weave school intends to weave a thread of new earthen techniques with existing local materials and craftsmanship that empowers the local communities and prioritizes the process not just the result.
Project Name: Weave (Senegal Elementary School)
Location: Marsassoum, Senegal
Firm Name: Scarlett Lee Architecture
Image Credits: Scarlett Lee