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Ilima Primary School in Congo by MASS Design Group

Drawing on local materials and techniques, this school is a beacon for improving education in rural Congo

In the Democratic Republic of Congo there is an often a sharp disparity in the quality of schooling available for urban and rural children. An overwhelming proportion of Congo’s poor are young – a potential force for huge national development but afflicted with poor access to food, technology or transport and displaced by conflict. In the UNDP’s (United Nations Development Programme) ranking of human development, the DRC remains 186th out of 195 territories, with an average of three years of schooling compared with the UK’s 12.

Across Africa, MASS Design Group’s numerous schools have presented the school as not only a facility that will further the development of the young, but a building that, through its construction, can be an educational tool in itself.


Floor plan

Deep in the jungle of the Congo basin, six hours’ drive from the nearest airstrip, Ilima Primary School has become a beacon for the region. Labour and materials were all sourced on site, in line with MASS’s ‘lo-fab’ (local fabrication) ethos. Designed in collaboration with the African Wildlife Foundation, conservationists selected nearby trees which were then crafted into structural members and furniture, and local artisans helped to experiment with modified earth mixes and regional wood to created the walls and roof shingles. Their new mix, created with different mixes of palm oil, made the mud brick stronger and sturdier.

The design of the school itself also takes its cue from regional techniques – the sloped roof and gutter system will cope with heavy rainfall, while an open clerestory will maximise natural ventilation and daylight and the large, overhanging roof provides shade. Given the training that the community received throughout the construction of the school, they are well equipped to maintain it, easily replacing any materials from the surrounding jungle.



Ilima Primary School

Architect: MASS Design Group

Photographs: Courtesy of the architect

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