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Soe Ker Tie Houses by Tyin Tegnestue, Noh Bo, Tak, Thailand

A cluster of woven and slatted bamboo dormitory pods for Noh Bo’s expanding orphanage

Noh Bo is a small village located on the border between Thailand and Burma. Most of its inhabitants are ethnic Karen refugees fleeing persecution in Burma and among them are many children who have lost or become separated from their parents. It’s a depressingly familiar tale of dispossession and despair, but it has had the positive effect of galvanising humanitarian assistance from the other side of the world. In 2006, Ole Jørgen Edna established an orphanage in Noh Bo. Edna is originally from Norway and has collaborated with his compatriots TYIN Tegnestue on a series of projects in rural Thailand with the aim of improving living conditions and developing building skills. Projects are specific to context and make inventive use of indigenous materials, mainly timber and bamboo.

Working under the guidance of Professor Hans Skotte and architect Sami Rintala, TYIN is a non-profit organisation formed of a group of architecture students from Trondheim’s Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Funding for their activities comes from over 60 Norwegian companies backed by private contributions. The set-up might be described as a Scandinavian version of Rural Studio, which sends students task forces to build community projects in Alabama, but with the difference that TYIN’s mission extends overseas. ‘We hope that our projects can have an impact beyond physical structures,’ says Pasi Aalto, one of the student designers.

This project involves the construction of a series of dormitory pods for Noh Bo’s expanding orphanage. Originally capable of housing 24 children, the amount of accommodation required soon doubled. A dismaying statistic perhaps, but it has catalysed an architecture of simplicity and dignity that uplifts the spirits. Rather than design a large, single dormitory building with institutional overtones, the aim was to recreate the children’s more normal experience of living in a family house. TYIN’s solution was to build six separate identical units shared by groups of up to six children, so each child could have private space in an identifiable ‘home’, as well as a surrounding communal neighbourhood for play and interaction.

The workers named the pods Soe Ker Tie - The Butterfly Houses - because of their appearance. With lightweight walls of woven and slatted bamboo, harvested within a just few miles of the site, the squat, compact huts embrace the local vernacular; techniques used to create the walls are the same used in local houses and crafts.

Dwellings are slightly raised above the ground to repel moisture, dampness and rot in the hot, wet climate, while oversailing ‘butterfly’ roofs of thin corrugated metal sheeting enhance natural ventilation and help collect rainwater - a particularly useful feature during dry periods. They also provide convenient supports for children’s swings.

Anchored by sturdy concrete foundations cast in recycled tyres, the durable ironwood structure for each hut was prefabricated and bolted together on site. The interiors resemble a jungle gym, with children of all ages clambering around various sleeping platforms and scrambling up and down ladders. Natural light percolates through the bamboo walls and improvised windows made from horizontally stacked and hollowed out tubes of bamboo. On the surface, this highly successful project has the rustic delight of Laugier’s archetypal primitive hut transported to the tropics, but the built reality is grittier and more serious, achieved on a microscopic yet resoundingly far-reaching budget of around £7,300.

Architect TYIN Tegnestue, Trondheim, Norway
Project team Pasi Aalto, Andreas Grøndvedt Gjertsen, Yashar Hanstad, Magnus Henriksen, Line Ramstad, Erlend Bauck Sole

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