By Shaun McLeod
4th Year Architecture Student, University of Edinburgh
The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Classroom Project began as a collaboration between ESALA – a pro bono architecture design team at the University of Edinburgh, Learning Planet – an educational NGO providing design and infrastructure assistance to remote or disadvantaged communities, and Aleutia – an innovative low-power computing manufacturer specialising in the developing world. The design team’s task was to help plan and design a successful, self-powered, instant ICT classroom prototype, based on 40-foot or 20-foot shipping containers. The classrooms had to function as affordable, rapid to deploy, flexible and inspiring learning environments for ICT education and other developmental needs. It is aimed at both urban and rural areas where access to such education and infrastructure is poor or non-existent.
The initial project is aimed at late primary and early secondary school children (10-16 years of age). The current deliverable of this project is a prototypical scheme that will be constructed in the grounds of Ghana’s House of Parliament as a showcase for decision makers on innovative, rapid deployment, ICT training facilities for Ghana’s schools.
The design phase was guided by an initial research report compiled by the team, looking at relevant issues in the context of Ghana. This included the countries governmental initiative in education, the education curriculum and teaching methods in place, which helped to identify specific programme needs. Then, an analysis of local resources and environment was undertaken for the development of passive design strategies. The available technologies to be provided by the company Aleutia for the ICT classrooms were listed in this report, as well.
This research resulted in the production of two proposals – one using a single 40ft container, and the second using two combined 20ft containers; each of them sharing the same design features. The folding wall on the front elevation of both, which once opened out forms the floor plate of the classroom, not only increasing the floor area, but also providing a base for the rest of the structure. The supporting structure for the roof in each case is metal scaffold, which offers a simple assembly and is a cost effective option for structure. Where possible this structure will also be able to clip onto the container, minimising the need for further foundations. Solar panels on the roof generate energy to power the classroom and a single roll down shutter provides security at night. It was the team’s aim to cool the classroom using only passive strategies. Cross ventilation was calculated to be the most effective method of doing so. To enable this, the design features a large window in the back wall with operable louvers as well as an open front elevation. The inclusion of a generous overhanding roof on all sides provides solar shading for the windows and openings.
The Team’s Inspiration
This was a very intriguing project design-wise, as it was essentially a metal box located in Africa. The classrooms will operate without the use of mechanical ventilation, and as a result, sustainable design principles were the driving force from the initial stages of the design. Also, the brief’s main characteristics were: economy in the manufacture and operation of the classrooms, lightweight properties of materials chosen for best use of the classroom’s/container’s transportation, as well as a design methodology that would be both simple and intriguing.
Another very important matter that came up through our initial investigation was the current education standards in Ghana, Africa that offer limited classroom space to a large number of pupils. We gathered that this was an essential point that had to be resolved in the best possible way through our design.
The team joined forces on the above issues and we produced a hybrid structure that combined bamboo logs with the metal frame of the container that relied essentially in the design’s natural ventilation strategies for achieving thermal comfort. We were very interested in combining local materials and workmanship in order to make the project as local as possible, while bringing the costs down. The bamboo structure is attached to the metal container, enlarging the footprint of the project without increasing dramatically its budget. The final design deals successfully with all the issues raised from our clients and our initial design-report in Ghana’s current trends, and as a team we feel very lucky and proud to have worked on such a project together.
The Impact for Global Development
From the beginning of the project there was a direct communication with both Learning Planet and Aleutia on the evolution of the design. Both corporations have an extensive knowledge on building schools in the developing world and their feedback was essential for understanding how things work there.
For us the Ghana project is definitely a step forward, towards forming a challenging design that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional. The final proposal is a reflection of a good cooperation between the different parties involved – that is, our design team, the NGO Learning Planet and Aleutia, the computer company – and is relevant to the three months time frame that we were able to work together. We believe that our design deals successfully with providing education, as well as creating a social hub, while working with a very tight budget and in a very efficient way (i.e., construction time, ease of transportation). Moreover, we believe that the structure may form a basis upon which more things can be tested (for example, the use and collection of rain water).
The main principle is to serve the community in the best possible way and we like to think that our contribution is a good one!
The ESALA Projects Team
Shaun McLeod – 4th year Architecture student at the University of Edinburgh
Suzanne Priestley – 4th year Architecture student at the University of Edinburgh
Jonathan Lynn – 4th year Architecture student at the University of Edinburgh
Alia Aida – 4th year Architecture student at Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow
Tanya Saroglou – Qualified architect RIBA 3 / MSc Advanced Sustainable Design, University of Edinburgh
Feng Qui – Graduate Engineer at WYG /BEng / MSc Advanced Sustainable design, University of Edinburgh
Dr Ola Uduku – Co-ordinator