Description from the architects. The project site is situated in the rural village Balaguina, in the Dogon region in Mali (declared Unesco World Heritage site in 1986), in the West African Sahel. The Dogon region is underdeveloped, as the government hardly invests in this remote region of the country. An important key to improve living conditions of the Dogon people is the development of education. The former school in Balaguina was housed in a poorly constructed hangar which had deteriorated a lot. A new school building which meets the needs of the growing number of students had to be constructed. The project doesn’t only concern the construction of a new school building. The organization of education and the realization of supportive functions like wells and housing for teachers are essential to make this project successful.
The village Balaguina lies on the Pinari plateau, about 40 kilometers south east of Mopti and 500 kilometers from Bamako, the capital. This area is situated in the Sahel zone, and characterized by the alternation of a dry and a rainy season. The rainy season lasts about five months between May and September. In this period, the area is green and flourishing and temperature reaches 40-45 C. The area turns into an arid landscape in the dry season. Although building activities continue year-round, the best period for construction work is after the rainy season. During the harvest period, which runs until October, the availability of workers is low as they work on the land.
The school is situated along the road to Nando and other surrounding villages. The location was carefully chosen together with the inhabitants of the village. Various aspects played a role in the determination of the exact location of the school. There was already a well near the terrain, which could be used during the building process and by the children of the school. The school serves not only children from the village of Balaguina, but also from three villages in the surrounding area. Therefore, the school should be easily attainable for 180-200 pupils from different villages.
By placing the school outside of the village Balaguina, on the road to surrounding villages, the school “belongs” to all of them. Another reason for this location outside of the village is that a school building doesn’t fit in the organization of traditional Dogon villages, which consist of family houses, men- and women houses and altars.
Use of local materials/basic technologies
One of the main criteria was the use of local resources and materials to realize an economical and sustainable building which integrates in the landscape and suits the local traditional building methods. With the use of basic technology and the existing local knowledge traditional building techniques are innovated step by step. These developments have already inspired similar efforts elsewhere; the use of the compressed earth blocks and innovative building techniques are adopted in other projects in the region. In this sense, the project fits very well in the AKTC’s Rehabilitation of Earth Architecture Program.
Educational process/involvement community
The goal of this project is not only a well-functioning school building, the project also offers students and local people an opportunity to learn about construction work. The building process itself plays an important role in the sustainable development of building locally and traditional building techniques.
The local contractor and craftsmen work closely together with students of the Technical School in Sevare to involve them in all stages of the building process. Steps are taken carefully to improve and refine building methods in continuation on existing methods, traditions and knowledge.
Besides this, involvement of the whole community in the project is important, not only because building together is part of the Dogon tradition, also to create a communal responsibility for the maintenance of the school building. Also, the masons acquire knowledge and experience, so they can build more and more independently and develop their own architectural language based on the compressed earth blocks.
Comfortable inside climate
As the temperature easily reaches 40 C and higher, a comfortable inside climate is essential. This criterion asks for Intelligent design solutions and choice of materials. The roof of compressed earth blocks, instead of corrugated sheeting, veranda’s on both sides and ventilation pipes contribute to a comfortable inside climate.
The project is an ensemble of the school building, houses for teachers, sanitation blocks, a well and communal outdoor space. The terrain will be enclosed by Jatropha plants to offer some protection against animals. The oil from the plants is also used for making biodiesel fuel. The school needs to meet the requirements prescribed by the government and the CAP (Centre d’Animation Pédagogique). Schools usually consist of clusters of three classrooms. Classrooms should be 7 x 9 meters and serve about 60 pupils. The school in Balaguina is built in two phases, to be able to cope with the growing number of pupils. The first phase consists of a school building of three classrooms with veranda’s on both sides. The second phase comprises another building of three classrooms, placed closer to the road. In between these buildings arises a schoolyard with trees to provide shadow. The housing block for teachers are placed on the edge of the terrain and each has its own courtyard enclosed by traditional parapets of cut stones, made by inhabitants of Balaguina. The housing block comprises three homes, each with its own orientation. The office of the school’s director is oriented to the school, to have a good overview. The houses for teachers are not located in the village, because the village is based on families. Teachers often come from other villages and have no family in Balaguina. The sanitation block is located in the corner of the terrain, easily accessible for both pupils and teachers. The well for the school was constructed on the other side of the road so that it can also be used by the inhabitants of the village and the school terrain remains for the pupils. The position of the school, houses and sanitation block has also been determined by the trees which had to be preserved.
The architecture of the school and the houses for teachers has a close connection with the local building and housing traditions. The use of locally compressed earth blocks results in a fluent integration with the surroundings, like almost all Dogon villages which merge into the landscape. The formal language is a clear result of functional requirements.
The structure of the school is unique with two veranda’s along the classrooms. Both veranda’s function as buttresses to catch the load of the barrel vault roof of the classrooms. Besides this, the veranda’s offer comfortable outside space for the pupils. The veranda’s are brick-laid in alternating stapled blocks with ribs which determine the rhythm in the façade. In the passages, the blocks follow the pressure arch and this way form the characteristic openings. The roof and the eaves are accentuated by extra stone layers and dilatation stones which divide the arches. The roof of compressed earth blocks is smeared with a 20-30mm thick layer of red earth mixed with cement to achieve a waterproof layer. Handmade ceramic gargoyles abduct the rainwater quickly. These gargoyles, made by the Bozo people, are also applied in the roof for ventilation and daylight.
Houses for teachers
To encourage teachers to come to the remote Dogon region, houses have been built next to the school. The housing block comprises three homes and office space for the school’s director. The block is formed by four barrel vaults next to each other. Each home includes a courtyard, the entrance living room and a sleeping room. To create privacy in this housing block, each home has its own orientation. The window- and door openings are accentuated with a wide brim of masonry. This reinforces the construction, blocks the sun and results in a nice shading and rhythm in the façade which is characteristic for the Dogon architecture. The school’s director has an extra sleeping room for his family. In general, the houses are only used during the school year, during holidays teachers often go to their families elsewhere. Both in the school and the houses, the floors are made of compressed earth blocks of 4 kilos, half thickness. To prevent termites for damaging the building, the ground is sprinkled with salt.
In the Dogon region different types of building methods and materials are applied, depending on the exact location. Clay is the most common building material, as various types of clay can be found throughout the whole Dogon region. In Balaguina, clay was the most obvious choice too.
It is very important to build with locally available materials as much as possible. This is economically more interesting than importing materials, a sustainable solution and easily workable. The complete building; the bearing walls, the curved roof and the floors are realized with hydraulically compressed earth blocks. The earth block pressing machine is mobile, so the blocks could be made on the construction site and jointed by an earth mortar. The blocks weigh 8,5 kilos each and can bear a pressure of 15 N/mm2. About 3-4% cement is added to the blocks to make the blocks waterproof. The foundation are made of poured concrete. Because the use of local materials was an important criterion, no supporting constructions are applied. This doesn’t only results in a unique loam construction, it leads to design solutions which increase the quality of the building, like the veranda’s on both sides of the building. Besides this, the use of loam in walls, roof and floors results in a very comfortable inside climate. The unique ventilation pipes in the roof, made of traditional gargoyles, achieve a perfect ventilation and make a double roof construction unnecessary. The use of wood was rejected because native hardwood is scarce, laborious and demanding in terms of maintenance. The steel window frames are made by craftsmen in Mopti who are familiar with the technique. Another reason not to use wood is the threat of termites, who eat it away.
MORE CREDITS – Client: Stichting Dogon Onderwijs. Cost: 41,000 €. Contractor: Amatigue Dara. Realization in collaboration with students of the Technical School in Sévaré and Inhabitants of Balaguina.