AR_EA 2006 Prizewinner: simple materials and local skills inform a life-enhancing rural architecture.
Originally published in AR December 2006, this piece was republished online in August 2016
All too often, aspirations towards modernity in developing countries have malign economic and cultural effects where construction is concerned. Traditional materials and techniques are abandoned in favour of the import of expensive and sometimes energyinefficient materials and products, benefiting only manufacturers in more advanced economies. The outcome can at worst be the imposition of alien buildings, forms and materials which don’t last long and are difficult to maintain.
Their only merit is to look new for a time. By contrast, this joyful project, in a poor rural area of Bangladesh (said to be the world’s most densely populated country), shows that new and refreshing local identity can be achieved by exploiting the immediate and the readily available - ironically via architects from Europe.
‘The inventive architecture, allied to traditional materials, is clement, spacious and colourful’
This school is built using brick, loam, straw, bamboo and rope, plus some steel pins. Refining the local technique of using very wet loam to build walls, the school has a brick foundation, a damp proof course, and walls made of a mixture of loam and straw, the latter acting as a form of reinforcement. The loam and straw are combined by getting cows and water buffalo to tread them in. The ‘Wellerbau’ technique employed here involves building a 700mm high wall layer, leaving it to dry for two days, and trimming off with a spade. A further drying period is followed by the addition of the next layer.
The ceiling and first floor are constructed using bamboo as the chief material. Three layers of bamboo sticks, bamboo boards and an earth filling make the surface ofthe floor. The upper walls and roof comprise a frame construction using four layers of joined bamboo sticks, and vertical and diagonal poles; steel pins are fixed with nylon lashing from the junction of the sticks (a modified form of traditional local lashing was used).
The inventive architecture, allied to traditional materials, has attracted thousands of visitors to the building, which is clement, spacious and colourful. The architects sums it up thus: ‘Comfort, durability and style as teaser - sustainability as concept’. lt is the only two-storey building in the neighbourhood, and the architects hope that the principles that inform the school design may be replicated in relation to housing development, escaping the apparent tyranny of the earth hut. The judges felt this project more than lived up to its aims and ambitions, and that the thorough analysis which underlies the design has been matched by the quality of architecture achieved.
Handmade School, Rudrapur, Bangladesh
Architect: Anna Heringer, Eike Roswag
Photographs: Kurt Hbrbst