An exhibition complex in a park in Chengdu revisits the traditional Chinese courtyard house, drawing on local construction techniques and materials
The central African state of Rwanda is rarely the focus of attention or engagement by European architects. In designing the Nyanza Education Centre, Munich-based Dominikus Stark had to reset his architectural compass and navigate a new path of improvisation and adaptation. The outcome is an exceptionally sober and dignified building that resonates with place, time and culture.
Conceived as an educational lighthouse with a diverse training programme, the centre was established as a private initiative in the southern town of Nyanza. On a rural site, the new complex is set like a boulder or fortress in the landscape.
Analogous to local building tradition, inward-facing elements are grouped around a large courtyard that functions as a protected enclave of social encounter. The roof structure is also oriented towards the courtyard enabling the collection and storage of precious rainwater. Only the publicly accessible internet café and copy shop open up to the outside to create a forecourt and entrance.
While the colour of the brick blends in with the dusty local soil, the building’s crisply hewn volumes stand out from the undulating terrain
The same brick is used for walls and paving, creating a unified formal environment in the enclosedcentral courtyard
Local precedents also establish an austere language of colour and form. This is drilled down to three basic materials − brick, steel and wickerwork − as construction, protection, surfacing or decoration. Clay, the traditional building material, is employed for the whole complex. The manual firing process creates intriguing irregularities and colour variations that give the walls an extraordinarily subtle texture unlike the blandness of industrially manufactured bricks.
Because wood is scarce here it is not used for building purposes, so alternatives had to be sought. The involvement of local craftsmen embeds the centre more directly in the community it serves, and reinforces a wider dynamic of sustainability.
The jury was impressed by the project’s evident skill and sensitivity in reconceptualising vernacular precedents to create an authentic modern architecture in a challenging context.
Ceilings are lined with thin sheets of papyrus and local basket-makers fabricated wickerwork doors and screens.
Architect: Dominikus Stark Architekten
Photographers: Courtesy of the architect