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Learning Curve

Ten weeks ago we started construction on phase 2 of the Shiyala Primary School. The first phase, completed in 2016, entailed transforming two existing brick structures on the brink of ruin into new colorful blocks of classrooms, a new small library, a new block of toilets and teachers’ accommodation. The construction team is made up of local community members, many of them have children that are now attending the new school that was constructed last year.

Phase 1 of the primary school opened in September 2016. The foundations and walls were previously derelict.

As the number of students from the surrounding villages attending the Community School grows, this year’s intervention is to increase the school’s capacity by adding a new block of three classrooms, a new office with a storage room and a small block of accessible toilets. The new buildings follow a similar architectural language to Phase I and help to define a central courtyard while maintaining visual relationships with the surrounding spaces. 

Curved steel roof trusses are mounted by the workforce on top of columns constructed from rammed earth inside permanent oil drum formwork.

Phase 2 involved the construction a third 3-classroom block, similar in style to the renovated blocks in Phase 1.

One of our biggest challenges has been running a construction site alongside a vibrant Primary School full of students. Health and safety are of the utmost importance and having more than two hundred kids from six to thirteen-years-old playing around us does not make things easy. Seeing the children attending lessons, singing songs with the teachers and playing games has helped us keep in mind why we are here and who we are we really working for. At the same time, it has been very satisfying for us to see how the kids and their teachers interact with the buildings. Having them on site each day has been invaluable for gaining feedback and it has been a collaborative effort with their input allowing us to make changes during construction to best suit their needs and how they intend to use the spaces.

Charles and Salu digging foundations while the students attend class.

Due to the nature of the build being split into the two phases, it has been a unique learning experience for everyone involved. This is especially reflected in the team of local construction workers, demonstrating improved skills and confidence from last year. They have an excellent way of working together to approach problems that have arisen on site, providing their own solutions to drive the project forward.

Eunice and Yvonne, two of the female workers, have been responsible for painting the new classrooms.

Eunice focused on painting the classroom interiors.

We have been impressed at how quickly the skills of more experienced construction workers are being passed onto less experienced members of the team. Especially in the case of the women, who are training in traditionally male-dominant jobs like brick-layering or plastering. The unexpected speed at which this skills-transfer happened has allowed us to accelerate the construction while training new techniques amongst the workforce, no matter sex or age.  

Elena and Charles plastering the inside of a classroom .

Often seen taking a selfie of themselves in front of the building and sharing with friends and family, the workers and the community in Shiyala are incredibly proud of what they have built. It is this sense of pride and excitement around the build that has made the experience so rewarding.

Maxwell paints the covered corridor running in front of the classrooms.

From the football field, the rear of the new classroom block forms a courtyard playground with the Phase 1 classrooms.

Written by Jaime Velasco Pérez, Orkidstudio Design Build Manager leading construction on the Shiyala Primary School.