Description from the architects. As technical partner of an Italian NGO operating in Africa since 15 years, in 2005 FAREstudio designed and supervised all the project and construction phases of a community health centre where local women’s rights are promoted and fostered in terms of sexual and reproductive wellbeing.
The CBF [Centre pour le Bien-être des Femmes] Women’s Health Centre in Burkina Faso was created by AIDOS, an Italian NGO fighting for Women’s Rights in Developing Countries. The AIDOS project is just one of the group’s international programs focused on contrasting the diffusion of Female Genital Mutilation/Excision [FGM].
The social/health-services program developed by AIDOS, together with its local partners, focuses on providing educational services, information and awareness about women’s sexual and reproductive rights in Ouagadougou’s Sector 27, a peripheral urban area settled by a once rural population. The architectural project is a direct response to a social program that called for the realization of a building complex capable of hosting a variety of activities in very harsh circumstances.
The project has been developed into two separate buildings from a very simple and adaptable scheme: a flat raised platform, aimed at keeping ground level’s dirt apart, is protected by a sort of huge umbrella that shields from direct sunshine without interfering with wind and ventilation. In between, isolated from dust and mud and in the shade of the upper velarium, small separate volumes made of locally made compressed earth bricks are freely disposed on the platforms like colored boxes separated by ventilated open corridors.
Is a complex with an effective passive climatic control and flexible spaces with various degrees of privacy; a functional building efficiently corresponding to its purpose, a friendly, playful appearance which welcomes customers and patients, and green exterior areas conceived as a public space for small events open to the whole community.
- Pro bono design and a private donor: the essential, contradictory pre-conditions for the architect’s ability to contribute to a successful initiative?
- Typological innovation against local construction ‘standards’: habits are difficult to change.
- Environmental control strategies actively transformed into architectural form.
- The introduction of new technologies: collision with local building context and skills.
Temperature control, perhaps the most significant climatic issue, has strongly influenced the overall design. The adopted strategy, based on the observation of local habits, includes:
- building orientation, as a strategy to reduce the effects of hot wind and take advantage of mutual over shading
- upper shading, in order to protect heavy materials against direct exposure to sun and overheating
- extensive use of operable windows and gaps between elements, in order to enhance natural ventilation
- creation of transitional spaces, such as verandas or patios, aimed at providing various degrees of environmental wellbeing
- combination of heavy and light materials in order to dose thermal insulation and natural ventilation
- use of vegetation, in order to better regulate the overall micro climate
The design is based on the separation of the primary activities performed by the CBF into two distinct, though closely related, buildings: a Training Centre, dedicated to management and awareness-rising activities, and a Consultancy Centre, where medical visits, legal assistance and psychological counselling are provided to the community almost free of charge.
The volumes that contain the different rooms are independent from the umbrella roof structure, placed atop the platform and freely articulated around a series of shaded and ventilated patios that ensure privacy from the exterior.
The modular configuration of the structure allows future expansion while preserving the general framework of the building.
The building walls are constructed using BTC [briques en terre comprimée], clay bricks made on site using a rough mixture of earth, sand and water stabilised with cement and compressed with an hydraulic press. The making of these sun-baked bricks consumed no additional energy [transportation and/or cooking], limiting the environmental impact of the entire intervention.
The outside wall, are finished in brightly painted plaster. The local NGO’s slogan, translated into 5 languages, completes the decoration of the walls, turning the entire building into a large canvas that broadcasts the structure’s social objectives in an informal manner.
Completed in 18 months by a local builder, working under the direct supervision of FAREstudio, the CBF is a functional and cost-effective answer to the needs expressed by AIDOS, while simultaneously and primarily representing a center of aggregation and identity for the entire local community. The technological and typological responses offered by the project, on par with its social objectives, represent an innovative approach to traditional local building practices, presented as the natural formal expression of the changes and new approaches promoted by AIDOS.
The buildings are protected against rainfall and, above all, direct sunshine, by a lightweight waterproof PVC canopy supported by an independent structure of steel ‘trees‘. This sloping tarpaulin is part of a system that collects and stores rainwater to irrigate the garden.
Integrated systems for the regular control of energy consumption are accompanied by energy self-production: water is supplied by a newly drilled and dedicated well, and photovoltaic cells have been installed along the perimeter wall reducing the use of the power generator. The elimination of mechanical air conditioning [limited to medical rooms in order to assure filtered air] is perhaps the project’s most important achievement in terms of environmental sustainability.
The CBF, winner of the HEALTH category award at the World Architecture Festival of Barcelona 2008, has been shortlisted among the finalists for the 2010 Aga Khan Award.
In 2014 the CBF has been selected as one of the Laureates of the European Prize of Architecture Philippe Rotthier.
The building is intensively in use.