This is a pretty neat project which is getting realised in Rwanda at the moment, thanks to a great collaboration between the American based NGO Women For Women International, New York based architecture office Sharon Davis Design, and dozens of local women in Rwanda.
One of the most interesting things which often distinguishes ‘humanitarian’ architecture from the rest of our built world is the huge focus on the process. Instead of just facing the usual concerns of how to get a building up as fast as possible for as little money as possible (and perhaps also keeping your carbon footprint to a minimum) projects like this get deeply concerned with how the community can be really involved and empowered as much as possible.
With this project in Rwanda that meant setting up a cooperative of about 250 women who worked together with the architects to develop a stronger and smarter brick which they could use to build the centre. The bricks traditionally used in the area suffer from unpredictable deforming and crumbling, but with a bit of research and experimenting a team of 30 women are now producing 20,000 of their new and improved bricks every week. They’ve almost made enough to complete the centre, and they are now looking at how they can roll out their business and provide bricks to projects all across Rwanda.
What really caught my eye in this project though is how similar it is to ‘Build Our Nation‘, a project for women in the Democratic Republic of Congo which we started last year with tutors and students from across Europe. The Women’s Opportunity Centre is a really great example of design tackling ideas of empowerment, security, privacy, and participation- exactly the things that students were wrestling with in the Build Our Nation workshops- and the result here looks really fantastic.
The women’s centre in Rwanda is due to open next march on international women’s day, and I really hope that all the students who have worked together as part of the Build Our Nation project will get to see it all come together with a building completed for the women in the DRC. In the mean time the Build Our Nation team is hard at work preparing for an exhibition as part of the Venice Architecture Bienalle this year, so there will be a lot to share from that soon!