California College of the Arts architecture students are prototyping a prefabricated classroom for developing nations in the tropics.
The Bijagos School Project is a collaboration between architecture students at California College of the Arts, in San Francisco, and the Orebok Foundation of Guinea Bissau. This non-profit organization is helping to preserve the interrelated cultural and biological ecosystems of the Bijagos Islands--Large sections of this 88 island archipelago are protected by the United Nations as a UNESCO Biosphere Preserve, and it is home to a unique culture of people called the Bidyagos.
Our team of architecture students, faculty, and industry collaborators are developing a simple one-room school structure that can be easily transported and assembled on site on the outlying islands of the archipelago. There is a specific current need for a school structure on the island of Unhocomozinho, which has a resident teacher but no school.
There are several stages to implementing this project, and depending on the levels of support we can develop through this Kickstarter campaign, we hope to be able to have an operational school on Unhocomzinho Island in time for the next school year, which will begin in August, 2013.
The immediate need is for funds to cover the materials and other production costs for building a 50%-scale prototype of the structure. So far we have been working in scale models, and it is time to fabricate large scale pieces so we can test the assembly methods and performance of the building. This will be covered by the initial $2,800 funding request.
If additional funds beyond the minimum target are raised, we will apply them to prototyping the desks, chairs, table, and bookshelf furniture that has also been developed by the team. Finally, we will apply any additional funding to the direct project costs of fabricating, shipping, and installing the school building at its site.
The Orebok Foundation and other project supporters believe that having a large-scale working prototype, and realistic implementation plan, will unlock matching funding for the Bijagos Schools project from a variety of international non-profit and industry sponsorship sources. We already have a commitment for materials sponsorship for the first school from an international building materials manufacturer, and we expect that the momentum provided by a successful design and prototype built here in the United States will help to establish an ongoing program of multiple schools on more of the islands in the coming year.
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There are many challenges to getting a school structure to these remote islands, and they have been waiting many years for a successful solution. There are few local resources for building materials or skilled building labor, so the Orebok Foundation has focused on finding a prefabricated building system that can be brought to the islands in small pieces, capable of being unloaded from small boats by the local people. The buildings need to be simple enough to be assembled by the island's residents with no tools, and no skilled labor, following clear pictographic instructions.
The project is about more than just producing a single building--the goal is to produce a set of design patterns that can be used by anyone with access to a CNC milling machine and some kind of panel material to make a building. This Open Source approach to design means that the design team needs to build many iterations of models, mockups, and prototypes to test out ideas of fabrication and assembly techniques. We are thinking about it more as the design of a product, than the creation of a building.
The current prototype that is being funded by the Kickstarter campaign is a 50% scale version of the final building design. This allows us to use the actual materials, production techniques, and assembly processes that are intended for the actual buildings, just scaled down. At this 50% scale, the prototype classroom will be about 13' in diameter and 8' tall, large enough to get inside of and experience spatially. We have made many previous models and smaller scales, and some mockups of components at this same and full scale, so we hope that this prototype is very close to a final design that can be distributed and used for production of actual buildings in tropical climates, but we also expect that we will learn important lessons and make refinements after completing this prototype.
Absolutely not! This prototype is very valuable as a resource in planning future versions, and will be used repeatedly by the current team and future teams of students in planning the refinements in design and assembly techniques.
One of the unique design constraints for this project is that all of the pieces must break down into relatively small and transportable components or bundles of parts. The concept is that the buildings can be rapidly assembled by a local crew of people anywhere in the world, without requiring any special tools or special skills. A set of pictographic instructions for assembly will accompany each kit, so part of the use of this current prototype is to practice assembling and taking apart the building multiple times with different teams, to record the ease or difficulty of assembly and refine the instructions and systems as needed.
We hope to have this prototype travel around to various exhibition sites, festivals, or demonstrations to give broader exposure to both the goals of the project, and to obtain feedback on the design and assembly. If anyone reading this has ideas for a place where we can exhibit the prototype, please let us know!
And eventually, once we have used this prototype for everything we can learn from it, we hope to sell it to an individual or organization to raise funds for further prototypes at larger scales, or maybe we can donate it to a non-profit group as a mini-classroom or play structure. It is being made out of durable, high quality materials, and will have a continued life, we hope in many places many times, assembled and disassembled and transported and reassembled as needed.