Page 1

Book I


ASF-DK Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark (ASF-DK) is the Danish member organisation of Architecture Sans Frontières International (ASF-INT). ASF-INT was formally established in 2007 in Hasselt, Belgium, the original organisation was founded in France in 1979. ASF-INT acts as an umbrella for 26 member organisations worldwide, all of which have signed a common declaration of principles, The Hasselt Charter. ASF-DK was founded October 7th 2008 by a group of architects and architecture students in Copenhagen, Denmark. ASF-DK offers professional consulting to people who do not have access to the services of architects and planners. ASF-DK promotes the socially, environmentally and economically sustainable development of the built environment. As of 2013 ASF-DK have an expanding network of various professionals and organisations. To date ASF-DK have 16 projects, 6 of which are in Sierra Leone.

Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark Developing Architecture Learning From Sierra Leone 1st print, 1st edition 2013

Editorial team: Tyra Lea Amdisen Dokkedahl, Frida Sophie Vang Petersen and Steen Andersen. Design: Jens Dan Johansen. Translation: Tania Storm, Ryan Ingram, Kim Junker and Ivan Korolev. Proofreading: Sophie Brauer and Justine Bell. Communication: Eva Bjerring. In collaboration with: Centertryk A/S With financial support from: Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark, The Danish Arts Foundation, The KAB Foundation and everyone, who preordered the book. Publisher: Forlaget PB43 Print: Centertryk A/S Copies: 1000 © 2013 Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark (ASF-DK) has the rights to this book. All contributors has the intellectual rights to own produced material. ASF-DK can use material produced for the book in similar, related projects. For some images it has not been possible to track the owner. Any violation are involunteerly and unintended. Claims related to this will be met as if a permission was granted ahead. The revenue of this book will benefit the realisation of projects within ASF-DK. Photo and drawings: Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark, WestportWiki, Alejandro García González & Francisco Andeyro, Pi Ekblom, Cecilia Rudström and Steen Andersen.

ISBN 978-87-995068-7-3

The KAB Foundation



Developing Architecture


Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark — 5 years The Architecture of Necessity by Marianne Filtenborg, Malte Warburg, Rune Asholt and Sofie Wäborg

6 10

Focus Essay

Sierra Leone — Context of the Five Cases How Power Works in Sierra Leone by Peter Albrecht

12 16

Theme I Case I Article Case II Article Case III Article Essay

The Architect in a Foreign Culture Brown House Challenging Tradition Monkey House The Story of a Monkey House Paula’s House Space for Changes The Challenge of Making Architecture in Housing Projects by Jørgen Andreasen and Jørgen Eskemose Andersen

18 22 30 32 40 44 52 54

Theme II Case IV Article Essay

Managing Building Projects Magburaka Education and Computer Centre Manager on Foreign Soil Teaching as a Learning Opportunity by Kristian Kreiner

56 60 68 70

Theme III Case V Article Essay

Building Icons for Social Change The Bio Learning Centre Waiting for the President When a Building Becomes an Icon by Niels Bjørn

72 76 88 90

Vision Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark by Rune Asholt


2008-2013 Article



“Why should the poorest people not live in beautiful buildings? Why should they not have housing with some special worth? They should live in buildings that they can be proud of — buildings that are unique.” – Gerardo Mingo Pinacho, City Architect, Madrid, Spain. Developing Architecture


by Tyra Lea Amdisen Dokkedahl and Frida Sophie Vang Petersen

The above quote expresses the core belief of Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark (ASF-DK). The voice is Gerardo Mingo Pinacho, city architect of Madrid, Spain, in an interview about the last ten years’ successful and widely acclaimed development strategy for the poorest housing areas in the city. The interviewer is Niels Bjørn, urbanist, Ph.D. and author of the last essay in this book; When a Building becomes an Icon. Bjørn’s essay articulates the role architecture can have for development. The text demonstrates how, in the past five years, ASF-DK has evolved from a group of day-dreaming flower children with good intentions and lofty ideals, into a specialist organisation working for the socially sustainable development of our built environment, at home and abroad. Architecture for the People ASF-DK is, primarily, an organisation of architects offering their professional capabilities to people who would not otherwise have access to such services. In addition to architects, we consist of planners, pensioners, craftsmen, dreamers, construction architects, autodidacts, academics, lawyers and globetrotters. Under the umbrella of the organisation, independent project groups fundraise, plan, design, and build each project. We are united by the common desire to give our time in order to try to create better living conditions for some of the poorest people on our planet. We are often asked by friends, acquaintances and in particular other architects, how architects engage in development work. We would like to reverse the question and ask: why shouldn’t architects participate? As architects, we solve problems with function and form. That said, our profession goes beyond facilitating the human need for toilets and kitchens, creating frameworks for the institutions of society and planning public places.

We believe that the experiential qualities of architecture, such as light, scale, the atmosphere of a room and its materiality, create value for the people who dwell in and move through it. This value can be pragmatic and tangible, but arguably also emotional and intellectual. As architects in a development organisation we strive to ensure the projects reach beyond the buildings’ functionality and resilience. The text The Architecture of Necessity looks more deeply into how we prioritise projects which have a positive influence on social or environmental development, both in the building’s purpose as well as in the building process. Architecture can, in its best form, support the building of a just society and offer new possibilities to the people within that society. Physical surroundings designed with careful regard to human experience can provide the opportunity for the individual to blossom and support the establishment and life of the larger community. This is as true in other cultures as it is in our own, and for people, who usually do not have access to the architectural profession. The architect’s job is no different abroad than at home, but the circumstances of the work are fundamentally different — both for users and for architects. 5 Years, 5 Projects Since the beginning, ASF-DK has been working in Sierra Leone, where we have completed three buildings and are constructing two more as this book is being written. The first project, Brown House in Masanga, was followed by Monkey House and Paula’s House, also in Masanga, while the two latest, The Magburaka Education and Computer Centre and The Bio Learning Centre, were born out of the previous projects but are situated elsewhere. Sierra Leone is the focus of this book, which is the first about the work of ASF-DK. Together, the five

Thanks, and Happy Reading! As with ASF-DK’s building projects, this book is a product of the energy and engagement of the people involved. It has been imagined and carried out by a dedicated group who have collected the material, interviewed people involved and focused on bringing forth the most interesting stories. We would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the book — the project groups, the active members of the organisation and the external contributors Peter Albrecht, Jørgen Andreasen, Jørgen Eskemose Andersen, Kristian Kreiner and Niels Bjørn. We thank The Danish Arts Foundation, The KAB Foundation and Centertryk A/S, whose support has ensured the realisation of this book. Special thanks to all who pre-ordered the book. The orders have secured the funding for translation into English and proofreading, thereby ensuring the quality of the writing and, not least, making it relevant and accessible outside Danish borders. We thank the members of the book group for their hard work. In a project like this with little funding and high ambitions, it is a pleasure to work with people who are dedicated to the project both personally and professionally. We thank Steen Andersen who visited the buildings and the users in Sierra Leone and personally ensured that everybody’s voices were heard through his work as writer and co-editor; Jens Dan Johansen, our graphic designer, who has made a coherent structure from quite mixed material; Tania Storm, Ivan Korolev, Sophie Brauer and Justine Bell translation and proofreading; Nina Wöhlk, the curator of the launching exhibition; and finally, Eva Bjerring who, from behind the scenes, has helped us communicate to a wider audience. To the readers: we hope you enjoy this book. We hope it succeeds in showing a nuanced image of Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark — both the organisation and its members. Furthermore, we hope it will contribute to increased activity in the organisation — more projects, more collaborations and more members — but most of all, we hope to express the humanitarian idea of architecture shared by the members of Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark, namely that architecture also plays a significant role in the lives of the world’s poorest people.


projects describe the development of the organisation thus far. An ad-hoc development where one project leads to the next and experience from the early work informs the work which follows, allowing a young organisation to grow step by step with the growing complexity of its projects. We have chosen to showcase the projects from both an architectural, tectonic, social and academic angle. We have strived to let those involved in the organisation’s formation and development — and not least in the projects — have a say and contribute with their own point of view. The book is focused around three themes; The Architect in a Foreign Culture, Managing Building Projects and Building Icons for Social Change, with the intention of creating links between specific projects and the architectural profession in general. While the first theme explores the cultural exchange between a poor West African country and a privileged North European one, the second examines the challenges of getting to a good result when time and money are limited. The last them revolves around The Bio Learning Centre and sets the tone for the future role of ASF-DK. The building is the headquarters for the West African organisation The Environmental Foundation for Africa (EFA), based in Sierra Leone. It is an example of sound, sustainable building methods, and designed based on these principles with the ambition of bringing attention to the organisation’s purpose. By offering a new public space — a scarce resource, to the local community, the building will hopefully attract many people to make use of this space, and in turn expose them to the activities of the EFA. The book illustrates a persistent development towards an understanding of what the role of the architecture and of the architect is — and should be, in ASF-DK’s projects. In addition to meeting needs and creating the physical frames for daily life, the architecture should support a development beyond the new building in itself. As such, The Bio Learning Centre has the power to be a catalyst for social and environmental change, becoming the first of ASFDK’s buildings to embody both of these aspirations. One might say that the book takes stock of the past five years. Moreover, it begins to define a direction for the future of the ASF-DK. The Bio Learning Centre and the vision for ASF-DK conclude the book and sketch out a future path for ASF-DK as a professional consultancy organisation, working for and with other Danish or foreign development NGOs and local clients.



Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark (ASF-DK) has from the outset been driven by the wish to help, wherever help is asked for. The intentions of doing good for others, making valuable contributions to society and creating useful spaces are the main motivation of the involved members, combined with a curiosity about other cultures and a desire to improve professionally. Yet good intentions are not enough. A young organisation must learn to walk before running. Sharing of knowledge, hands-on experience and strong partnerships are necessary to ensure meaningful projects and accomplish the vision of providing architectural and planning expertise for those in need. Today, in 2013, ASF-DK has 16 projects in 10 countries, 210 members and an expanding network of professionals in a variety of fields, both in Denmark and beyond its borders, and is moving closer to realising our goals. So far, so good.

10 — 9 Sierra leone 1. STAFF HOUSING AT MASANGA #1 BROWN HOUSE Period: 2008–2010 Status: Completed 2. STAFF HOUSING AT MASANGA #2 MONKEY HOUSE Period: 2009–2010 Status: Completed 3. MASANGA EDUCATIONAL CENTER (MEC) Period: 2009–2010 Status: Completed

4. STAFF HOUSING AT MASANGA #3–6 PAULA’S HOUSE Period: 2011–2012 Status: Completed 5. THE BIO LEARNING CENTRE Period: 2011–2014 Status: Under construction 6. MAGBURAKA EDUCATION AND COMPUTER CENTRE (MECC) Period: 2012–2014 Status: Under construction

Ghana 7. SUSTAINABLE BUILDING IN GHANA Period: 2009–2010 Status: Completed 8. VOICE OF GHANA HANDICAP CENTRE Period: 2011–2014 Status: Under development




India Sierra Leone






Mozambique 12. LOW COST HOUSING IN SLUM AREAS Period: 2013– Status: Under development

Kenya 13. SLUM UPGRADING IN KIBERA Period: 2010 Status: Project idea 14. BIO-DOME, KIBERA LEARNING CENTRE Period: 2010–2012 Status: Completed Ethiopia 15. CHILDREN’S LIBRARY AND LIBRARY GARDEN Period: 2012– Status: Under development

Palestine 16. LIFTA — ALTERNATIVE PLANNING PROPOSAL FOR A PALESTINIAN VILLAGE Period: 2013 Status: Completed India 17. CHAMELEON SCHOOL Period: 2008–2010 Status: Completed

Nepal 18. HANDICAP CENTRE NEPAL Period: 2012– Status: Under development Cambodia 19. CAMBODIA KINDERGARTENS Period: 2012– Status: Under development

2008–2013 — Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark — Project overview


The projects carried out by Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark focus on creating the necessary architecture to enable good spaces for living, but there are many more aspects to this work than designing a building envelope and constructing a roof to provide shelter. The Architecture of Necessity by Marianne Filtenborg, Malte Warburg, Rune Asholt and Sofie Wäborg, Co-founders and Board Members, ASF-DK

12 — 11

Our vision is to make architecture and planning available to society’s poorest groups. Our aim is to pass on knowledge and competences, to enable local people to solve architectural and planning challenges within their community by themselves. Our mission is to built robust partnerships, thereby strengthening the reach of our partners in developing countries and ensuring that their work generates maximum benefit for marginalised groups. More Than a Building We aim to create inclusive communities where we work for and with the local inhabitants, for example, teachers, people with disabilities, nurses, librarians and residents of slums. It is essential that the endusers are involved in the project from the start to finish. Their active participation might create a sense of ownership and responsibility, both during and after the building process, when the architects leave and the buildings come to life. The countries we collaborate with are some of the poorest. We are often involved with building the institutions which help create cohesion in society. Fighting discrimination — In Nepal we are working with a local handicap organisation to build a handicap centre. It is a country where people with disabilities are extremely exposed and discriminated against as a group. Thus, the aim of the work is to strengthen their position and improve the rights of people with disabilities in The Nepalese society. Access to knowledge — In India we have built a mobile school and provided poor nomadic children with the space to learn reading, writing and mathematics. In

Cambodia we have designed and prepared two kindergartens and a school for construction. In Ethiopia we are building a public children’s library, with the aim of introducing education and knowledge at an early age, to promote reading as a natural part of the children’s daily life. Building schools for children expands the field of their future possibilities in life. Health — In Sierra Leone we have built staff housing for a hospital, so the hospital can better attract skilled personnel. In a slum in Kenya we have built a biogas plant, improving the households and the sanitary conditions in the slum. In Mozambique we are working with a prefab housing system for the slum areas. Improvements to the houses make better health and living conditions for the inhabitants. Reinforcing local competences — In Sierra Leone we have built several buildings. The training of local labourers and craftsmen is an integrated part of all the projects. This fieldwork provides the craftsmen with direct access to hands-on learning experience which can aid them in becoming more competent building professionals, better planners, more capable in the optimisation and purchasing of materials, and better communicators with both users and the project managers. We produce letters of recommendation which the craftsmen and labourers can use in applications and interviews for further education or employment. Architecture We All Can Learn From In developing countries construction is not an exclusive industry dominated by specialists, and the few architects in the industry mostly build for the middle and higher classes. This means that there is a less

This is a cultural exchange in which we learn from each other. We, the architects, are challenged to use unfamiliar materials, building methods and customs belonging to a culture that perceives what is right, or beautiful, very differently to our own culture. We view the world through our native cultural contexts, and it is when this exchange of perspective happens that something seriously new and exciting is created — both on a personal and a professional level. We bring home our knowledge and experiences. In a Danish design studio, where one usually designs for people in a Nordic climate, there is a lot of knowledge taken for granted — elements like insulation, anti-frost methods, light and openness are positive things. When you face a foreign culture you have to relearn the most basic cultural embedded knowledge. How do you eat together? Where do you want to be during the day? How does light penetrate the space? By experiencing and working in a foreign cultural context you gain new perspectives on everyday rites and rituals, and how they differ to the ones back home. This results in exciting new perceptions once back in your own culture, and a voyage of rediscovery of the basic elements in architecture. According to UN Habitat, there are more than one billion people in the world without decent accommodation and who live far below the poverty line. At the moment we can only help a few, but even that is something. The vast majority of the projects we are involved in are small-scale, stand-alone, single buildings. The organisation has a clear wish to expand its horizon and get involved earlier in the planning process. In this position we can without doubt embrace the needs of more people, and secure greater areas for the future and thereby increase the effect of our work. It may be a dream but is nevertheless one of the long term goals of Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark.

2008–2013 — Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark — Article

prosperous group who build their own houses, schools and playgrounds, often without expertise or finances. One challenge is that the habitants and the labourers rarely have any educational background to assist them in planning or designing their buildings. As educated professionals we bring techniques for informing and communicating space, which might assist in improving the framework for architecture. Our intention is that the architecture, and process of building, prioritises the users and strengthens their position in the society. When a project under our supervision begins, it is often in conjunction with a local partner who connects us to the needs of the local community. Our starting point is to mutually define roles, obligations and expectations. The local partner is crucial to a good project, particularly after we have left and the building is in daily use. Without this local partnership we would not be able to do our job. They know the systems, the language and are used to working within the local community. Creating architecture and space in developing countries is different than it is in Denmark. There are different kinds of limitations, ones that do not often arise from planning policy or legislation but rather from the more informal nature of the projects. These constraints might be seen as a hindrance to work, but rather it is because of them that the work becomes interesting. These challenges only contribute to our knowledge as architects. We design sustainability into the projects — social, environmental and financial. We focus on low-energy building design, where the climatic conditions determine the design of the building. We prioritise local building materials and low-tech practical solutions over imported high-tech materials. It is fundamental for the future of the projects to make sure that the buildings will be maintained over time and that the local people have the skills to do this. As Western trained architects we can provide knowledge and competencies from a world based on industrialisation and efficient cost-optimised building process. In our projects we aim to employ local craftsmen and labourers to ensure the exchange of knowledge and customs. Hopefully both parties improve their skills in designing, planning and carrying out building projects. At the same time there is a potential of creating new architecture as customs are reinvented and new uses for materials are found.



Health, education and environment. Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark (ASF-DK) addresses these issues in five projects located in Sierra Leone, where the organisation has been active since its foundation in 2008. In the past, the country was the centre of the British slave trade in West Africa. In the modern era, Sierra Leone has been an exotic tourist paradise before the country became the focus of international attention for its brutal civil war with armies of child soldiers and a bloody diamond mining industry. The past decade has been mostly peaceful, despite the paradox that the country is among the world’s richest in natural resources, while its people are among the world’s poorest. The state survives on development aid, and the need for help is widespread — in the jungle and in the cities, among the middle class and the poorest, and in both the private and public spheres.



L E O N E Masanga Case I–III Magburaka Case IV Tonkolili (distrcit)

Freetown Sussex Case V

16 — 15



50 km

Facts on Sierra Leone (Danish figures for comparison) Location: West Africa Capital: Freetown Area (km²): 71,740 (42,915) Climate: Tropical Government: Republic Population (millions): Estimated 6.2 (5.6)

Population growth rate: 2.2% Population below poverty line: 70% Language: English / Krio Currency: Sierra Leonean leone Main industries: Mining and agriculture. Unemployment: Very high

GDP (billion USD): 3.7 (313.6) GDP per capita (USD): 613 (56,202) Inflation: 11.7%

CASES Case I: Brown House Case II: Monkey House Case III: Paula’s House Case IV: Magburaka Education and Computer Centre (MECC) Case V: The Bio Learning Centre

CHALLENGES OF TODAY Over the years, a number of development agencies have gained a presence in Sierra Leone. Nevertheless, after almost a decade of relative stability and gradual progress, there remains a lot to be done in order to improve conditions of life for the inhabitants. Today there is a need for international assistance to rebuild the country. Most of the country’s infrastructure has been destroyed during the war. The public sector and current political system is highly fragile, and private investments remain modest. The educational system is currently expanding but is still suffering from a shortage of qualified teachers and adequate facilities. Youth unemployment and illiteracy rate is growing, and with that, the risk of political unrest and instability.

ON BUILIDING IN SIERRA LEONE Tommy Garnett, client of ASF-DK and a local Sierra Leonean, expresses his view on the building situation in the country. “Sierra Leone is a place where you will generally find three kinds of buildings — business complexes, institutional structures and dwellings. The architecture of the first two is usually based on foreign concepts of constructing durable structures, using a lot of concrete and relying on electric airconditioning to maintain comfortable temperatures. Dwellings are also of two types. Modern concrete bunga-lows or multi-storey buildings, and traditional mud and grass thatch structures found mainly in the villages. In a country where less than 10% of the population have access to a reliable supply of electricity and most enterprises and institutions rely on diesel or petrol powered generators to provide electricity, the cost of living and doing business is very high from all perspectives — social, economic and environmental. This is not to say that there is no desire among the people of Sierra Leone to have modern structures built on the basis of sustainability principles. There are indeed many people who think about this, especially now that the harmful environmental impacts of using beach sand for construction are now becoming more visible. However, there are no locally established architects promoting sustainable building practices. Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark have highlighted this capacity gap in Sierra Leone. Their work stands out prominently because it is inspiring, and will continue to attract and inspire many young students, architects, entrepreneurs, government officials, educational institutions, community members and the general public in Sierra Leone.” — Tommy Garnett, Director, Environmental Foundation for Africa.

Focus — Sierra Leone — Overview

A long story short Sierra Leone has been inhabited continuously for at least 2,500 years, with iron mining and agriculture as main industries. The dense tropical rainforest largely protected the country from the influence of any pre-colonial African empires and from further Islamic influence of the Mali Empire. In the 15th century a Portuguese explorer mapped the hills surrounding Freetown Harbour, and named the formation Serra de Leão (Lion Mountains), thereby the country got its name. Sierra Leone became an important centre of the transatlantic slave trade until 1792 when the city of Freetown was founded as a haven for freed slaves from all over the British Empire. The country gained independence in 1961 from Great Britain, but has since suffered three military coups and a long civil war. The Sierra Leone Civil War from 1991-2002, resulted in more than 50,000 deaths and the displacement of more than two million people. In 2001, the UN succeeded in disarming the fighting rebel forces, yet a number of British troops remain in the country to this day in order to help with post-war reconstruction. In 2007, Sierra Leone held elections for the parliament and presidency.

Sierra Leone is a small country on the coast of West Africa, bordering Liberia and Guinea. The country is often remembered for its brutal civil war from 1991 to 2002 that was fuelled by diamonds. Ten years after the end of the conflict, Sierra Leone is peaceful, but is also one of the most aid-dependent countries in the world. How Power Works in Sierra Leone

18 — 17

by Peter Albrecht, Ph.D. in Security Sector Reform in Sierra Leone, Project researcher, Danish Institute for International Studies

The international community finances approximately 50% of the state of Sierra Leone through development aid. The country would collapse without this injection of foreign cash, largely from the United Kingdom. Some of the reasons why this dependency on donor aid exists today are the same reasons why war broke out in Sierra Leone in the first place. They have to do with how power works in Sierra Leone — who has it, but more importantly, how those who have it, use it. This article outlines how power is distributed in Sierra Leone, and how an organisation such as Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark (ASF-DK) can contribute to ensuring that those who are most in need are also those who benefit from its projects. The Individual Gaining Power Specifically, the reasons for the outbreak of conflict centred on the uneven distribution of wealth, weak or non-existent public services such as education and healthcare, and limited life opportunities for young men and women. Unfortunately, what international observers commonly refer to as corruption in Sierra Leone — that is, the private use of public funds and nepotism, is not dealt with in any simple way. In brief, it is not a matter of an isolated few misusing their access to public funds. Rather, what we are dealing with is a general system of how resources are divided and shared, which most Sierra Leoneans buy into. For instance, anyone who becomes a politician or a civil servant in Sierra Leone is expected by family members and other people around them to, first, amass personal wealth, and, second, distribute it in the networks that they are part of. In particular,

those who helped them to get to the position will expect something in return (cash or benefits such as a job or contracts). People who do not honour these commitments will be undermined or isolated professionally and will lose access to resources in a resource-scarce environment. Ultimately, this leads to poverty, which is the reality for approximately 60% of Sierra Leone’s population. In short, this is the mechanics of neopatrimonial governance systems — ‘neo’ because the state has become a central, if not the central, source of resources that keep the patrimonial system running. This has been the case under the rule of Sierra Leone’s two biggest parties after the war came to an end in 2002, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) that traditionally is South-based and Mende-dominated, and the All People’s Congress (APC) that is North-based and Temne-dominated. The Distribution of Power Expectations of payback fall on anyone who enters a position of authority in Sierra Leone, from the President down to local leaders in communities across the country. Just as power is concentrated around the President at the national level, the same is the case at the local level, where government is a closely knit and consolidated system of Paramount and lesser chiefs. Decentralised local government is a post-war novelty in Sierra Leone, and chiefs have therefore been the primary local leaders in the country’s rural areas. Paramount Chiefs are recognised in legislation such as the Local Government Act and the Chieftaincy Act. However, their powers are not only based

Development Which Benefit the Community as a Whole Herein lies one of the central powers of the Paramount Chief, namely that he by law holds land in trust for the population, the most important resource in Sierra Leone. When ordinary Sierra Leoneans in rural areas of the country wish to farm or build a house, they depend on the goodwill of the local chiefs to access land to do so. It is essentially his to give and take as he sees fit, and therefore how land is taken and to whom

it is given often creates tension at the local level. In towns and villages where non-governmental organisations such as ASF-DK support the building of houses, for instance, it will often be town elders that take ownership of the final product. An organisation such as ASF-DK must therefore ensure that the houses they build benefit the community as a whole rather than the local elite. This is done by raising awareness about the importance of distributing resources evenly among local stakeholders. This is no mean feat in a society where local resources are scarce. Sierra Leone has achieved strong macroeconomic gains in recent years. Bolstered by iron production, economic growth has been robust, while inflation has been falling. A recently-completed contract renegotiation with a London-based mining company should net the government hundreds of millions of dollars over the 25-year contract term. However, ensuring that these strides forward benefit the general population requires that efforts are made to change how resources are distributed in the country. This is the case at the national as well as the local level, where weak public services and corruption remain a reality. For instance, 25–30 percent of primary school-aged children, more than 240,000 individuals, are still not in school. Sierra Leone is peaceful and has been so for a decade. However, there are signs that the current stability is in jeopardy if the way that resources are being governed and distributed at the national and local level is not altered. Indeed, the uneven distribution of resources was one of the primary reasons why tensions rose and conflict began in the early 1990s. A rising GDP does not necessarily mean that the country’s wealth benefits the general population — as jobs or better and more accessible public services, for instance. War and its consequences are still fresh in the memory of many Sierra Leoneans. If the next generation is not to grow up frustrated with a government and local leaders that appear to do too little too slowly, changes in Sierra Leone’s power structures are necessary. International NGOs such as Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark may in a small way mitigate this, but it requires that those most in need of support reap the benefits as well.

Focus — Sierra Leone — Essay

on their legal status. At the local level, Chiefdom elders link a person’s legitimacy to run for elections to become a Paramount Chief to whether he is considered a ‘son of the soil’. Since the history of a Chiefdom is not written down, any candidate’s descent can be and often is manipulated politically. Being a Paramount Chief is a coveted position that gives considerable authority and access to Chiefdom resources. The chances of becoming a chief depend heavily on the support of elders that will verify the history of a locality, and a candidate’s position in it (who he is related to). Equally important in deciding whether a person can become a Paramount or Section Chief in Sierra Leone, is whether he is a secret society member. The Poro (secret society) initiates almost every boy into its membership, and has as its primary purpose to regulate sexual identity, religious, judicial and education matters and to mediate relations with the spirit world. The Poro is based on the ideology that its leaders maintain control over the dangerous, volatile nature spirits that their ancestors subdued upon arrival in a particular locality. These beliefs are used to support the power of the dominant group in a locality, and no man can lay claim to becoming a chief in Sierra Leone without being a Poro member. In sum, Paramount and lesser chiefs draw their power from a number of sources, including legislation, local history and tradition. As such, they are the central figures of authority in Sierra Leone’s rural areas. Nothing is done or can be done in any of Sierra Leone’s 149 chiefdoms without the blessings or acceptance of the chiefs. This means, for instance, that there often is no separation between the Paramount Chief’s say in local justice matters and his role as a local governance institution. He exercises judicial (or quasi-judicial) rule through a non-state justice system, but at the same time has executive authority over the same property or territory.

Theme I


Sierra Leone is a radical shift in culture from Denmark. The working conditions are also a challenge, as the country struggles with widespread illiteracy and scarce resources. How do foreign architects work in places like this, and which kind of architecture is needed? This chapter unfolds how Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark (ASF-DK) research, analyse, sketch and construct their projects, and how they have evaluated their own endeavours to bring architectural quality to the housing of the Masanga Hospital project. Architects’ trained ability to visualise future structures can result in misunderstandings with any client, in a foreign culture this issue becomes even more explicit. Three cases show how the group of Masanga Architects and the local craftsmen have developed an approach and a mutual understanding. Finally, the work speaks for itself, of both successes and unexpected outcomes along the way.


F 1

22 — 21






1 km

Cases 1. Brown House 2. Monkey House 3. Paula’s House

Masanga Site Plan A. Masanga Hospital B. Leprosy Village C. Bike workshop D. Church E. Masanga Village F. Hostel G. Agriculture for Masanga Hospital

Facts on Tonkolili district Location: Central Sierra Leone Population: 375,363 (2010) Area (km²): 7,003 Main industries: Mining, agriculture, sugar and rubber. Health sector: 87 local health centres, 8 health centres and 2 hospitals.

Hospital capacity Masanga hospital: 100 patients Magburaka hospital: 160 patients Healthcare staff: 120 local employees; 15 foreign doctors and nurses. Common diseases: Tropical ulcers, malnutrition, leprosy, malaria, tuberculosis.

Masanga Hospital Large parts of the health sector in Sierra Leone are in ruins, and the country currently does not have the resources to provide sufficient medical services. There is a lack of trained health care professionals, such as doctors, nurses and midwives. There is only one doctor for every 10,000 inhabitants (compared to 36.6 doctors for every 10,000 inhabitants in Denmark). There is a dire need for new hospitals, healthcare facilities and centres, combined with a short supply of medical devices, medicine and other materials required for various treatments. Action and investments in the health area are needed as the country suffers the world’s highest infant mortality rate at 16.6% and a shockingly low life expectancy of 40 years for men and 45 years for women. Masanga Hospital reopened in 2006, after being the headquarters for rebel forces during the civil war. The reconstruction was carried out in collaboration with Sierra Leonean Adventists Abroad and Association Friends of Masanga. The goal of the project is to restore the buildings into a fully functioning hospital with

capacity for 100 patients daily. In the first four years since the reopening, 100,000 patients have received treatment, and the hospital admits around 1,000 children each year. An outpatient clinic has been established which vaccinates children and provides health-monitoring services for pregnant women. Besides this, there is a constant drive to better the quality of medicine and improve nutrition and hygiene standards in the community. The vision of the project is to encourage growth and development in the region by providing the population with free access to healthcare, and by facilitating the necessary training to enable the community to take over the project in the near future. Providing management skills and education will help establish a sustainable foundation for the hospital to operate for years to come. The hospital’s development has also had other positive outcomes in the community. The project has produced offshoot educational programs and has helped kick-start a tailoring business, a bicycle workshop and a soap production company. All of these projects are focused on becoming self-sufficient and encouraging the dissemination of knowledge in the community. The Association Friends of Masanga The Association Friends of Masanga (AFOM) is a Danish NGO consisting of 20–50 people who voluntarily manage and take care of the administrative tasks and health care at the hospital. Everything is done on a voluntary basis with the help of local and International partners, such as ASF-DK. AFOM was founded by doctor Peter Bo Jørgensen in 2005, with the aim of rebuilding the hospital and making it fully operational over a ten-year period, in order to provide the community with the most basic and essential health services. The project maintains three parallel initiatives: the Hospital initiative, the Educational initiative and the Business initiative. The current goal is to transfer the complete management of the Masanga project to the local community by the year 2016.

Theme I — Case I–III — Context

Staff Housing in Masanga Since 2008, Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark (ASF-DK) has been building staff housing for Masanga Hospital, driven by the Danish NGO The Association Friends of Masanga (AFOM). The aim is to create good quality housing to attract qualified health care personnel to the hospital. The provinces in war-torn areas of Sierra Leone such as Masanga struggle to compete with Freetown and other big cities, where the payment is higher, the housing better and the work more prestigious. The ambition is to construct ten houses by 2016. They must be affordable, sustainable and provide good housing conditions in the subtropical climate. ASF-DK employs craftsmen and labourers from the Masanga region and trains them in different construction techniques to empower them to continue the building process after the architects have left.

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Case I Brown House In January 2009 Masanga Architects, the first group from Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark (ASF-DK), went on a field trip to Masanga to research culture, climatic conditions and local buildings. All the ruins in the area were measured and their conditions assessed in a report. Ten months later the group returned to renovate and upgrade an existing house, which turned out to be too frail. Instead it was transformed into a new house, constructed from a mixture of recycled and new materials. The availability of materials, the level of local craftsmanship as well as general possibilities and limitations in the construction process were explored. The building is a test of the materials’ availability, costs and quality. House number one, or Brown House as it was named by the community, is the first built work of ASF-DK and has thus become a prototype for the new organisation, as building and as method.

Theme I — Case I — Brown House


1. BROWN HOUSE Function: Housing Client: The Association Friends of Masanga Type: Transformation Year of Construction: 2009–2010 Size: 35 m² / 70 m² Materials: Concrete, recycled timber, plywood, zinc and palm leaves.

Construction time: 6 months Cost: 40,000 DKK / 7,300 USD Price per m²: 1,142 DKK / 209 USD Sponsors: The Danish Arts Foundation, The Dreyer Foundation and The Association Friends of Masanga.

Masanga Architects: Anne Katrine Røien, architect. Petter Brandberg, architect and construction manager. Ida Katrine Friis Tinning, architecture student. Nina Lund Westerdahl, architect.

Silje Erøy Sollien, Ph.D., architect. Camilla Kragh, architect and construction manager. Labourers: Local labourers and craftsmen. Published material: Masanga Architects






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2. ORIGINAL BUILDING The foundation was reused and materials dismantled and recycled in the construction of a new building on the same site.

3. WOOD WORK The wood for the shutters and facade came from the original house. It was dismantled carefully, sorted by colour and prepared for the new structure. It became an aesthetic characteristic of the architecture.

4. AXONOMETRIC A. Existing roof B. New roof construction C. New inner roof D. Existing roof construction E. Storage box with bed loft F. House moved onto new footing G. Walls of reused wood

5. FOUNDATION The foundation of the original building is extended to provide space for the kitchen and bath. 40 cm wide trenches are being dug out around the perimeter to redirect rainwater in the rainy season.



Theme I — Case I — Brown House


6. CONCRETE Making concrete is time consuming. The rocks are collected around the house, then crushed by hand. The sand comes from the river, and is filtered using a framed mesh of wires and a mosquito net. The cement has to be bought 30 minutes away by car. Both recycled and new blocks

are used for the foundation, the low wall, the bath and the sleeping loft. New blocks are cast in a wooden mould and set to dry for two to three days.


7. TIMBER The timber construction is a technique introduced by ASF-DK. Some of the same labourers participated in building Paula’s House (Case III) two years later, where they suggested improving the initial structure with this technique to improve the house and their skills on this method.

8. TRUSSES The roof is a double structure with an inner truss carrying the ceiling and an outer truss carrying the roof. This ensures natural ventilation and prevents the roof from transporting heat into the house.

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9. VERANDA View of the semi-public living space connected to the outdoor kitchen.


10. DETAILING Palm leaves are cheap and easily available, but have a low status in the community. A beautiful material in the eyes of the architects, who applied it with great attention to detail, hoping to change the local perception of it.

11. BED LOFT There were many doubts about the interior and the use of the house. The architects chose to construct a bed loft to increase the floor area and thereby optimise the use of space.

12. WINDOWS The house can be opened in every direction, allowing the breeze to pass through on the hottest evenings. Operable windows and shutters are extremely difficult to make and assemble, due to lack of precision and inconsistency in the dimensioning of local materials.

















13. SECTION A. Outer roof B. Inner roof C. Bed loft D. Railing of palm leaves E. Low concrete wall F. Trench

14. PLAN G. Living space H. Bedroom I. Bedroom J. Toilet K. Kitchen L . Porch

15. FACADE M. Roof N. Kitchen O. Bench P. Stairs

1m 15. 2,5m

Theme I — Case I — Brown House


ADVICE FOR BUILDING IN SIERRA LEONE Use sketches rather than scale drawings. Always be present at the construction site and draw in 1:1. Since illiterate people often cannot count or read numbers, use buckets of different sizes to mix sand, water and cement, and sticks of varying lengths to measure out distances. Include lunch in the salary. The break will be shorter, it ensures the labourers get food and they will be able to carry on working in the afternoon. Get a local foreman to employ the labourers. He has more knowledge and greater respect when negotiating salaries. Keep a secret, updated to-do list with tasks in case for example a delivery is delayed. It keeps the work flow and work ethic going. Keep the main idea in mind, but avoid dependency on a specific material and be ready to change almost everything along the way. 16.


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Rapport over forløb og arbejdserfaringer ved opførelsen af bolig nr.1.


16. ADVICE FOR BUILDING IN SIERRA LEONE By Petter Brandberg, construction manager. Based on his experiences building Brown House.


17. CONSTRUCTION TEAM The last construction team on Brown House, finished in 2010.

18. Report 2010 “In regard to the future of the house, we would like the inhabitants to use it according to our intentions, without changing anything in the first year. Then we would like to discuss changes and improvements.”

19. RESIDENTS Three young medical students, Muhammad, Taimy and Amin, are the current residents in Brown House. They come from the cities Freetown and Bo. It is the first time they experience living in the jungle, a radical change from city life.





Building budget



CHALLENGES OF SAFETY AND MAINTENANCE In general the students find the house aesthetically and better built than the average, but the house lacks maintenance. Their biggest concern though has been the — by their standards, lack of security inside and around Brown House. There are no railings in front of the doors or windows and some of the windows are loose, which makes it easy for burglars. The insecurity has made two of the students move their beds into the same room, so they won’t have to sleep alone.

23% 34%

Material budget

27% 16%


20. Feedback from the residents May 2013 Brown House has been repaired and the security improved in the Autumn 2013.


21. BUILDING BUDGET 70% Construction materials 7% Tools 14% Salary 5% Transport 4% Various e.g. lunch

22. MATERIAL BUDGET 34% Concrete 16% Wood 27% Zinc 23% Plywood

REFLECTIONS ON ECONOMY The use of concrete must be reduced, as it is neither environmentally nor economically sustainable. A pad foundation or pillars are possible solutions. The roof accounts for the largest expense, and should be reduced in size or made of cheaper materials.

Theme I — Case I — Brown House


An architect has an embedded knowledge about how people live in his or her home culture. In a foreign context, figuring out what people want and what works is difficult, but it is crucial to understand the culture if one wants to improve the customs of building. Challenging Tradition

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by Steen Andersen

It all began with a chance encounter late one night in 2008 in a Copenhagen wine bar. One of the founding members of Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark (ASF-DK) fell into conversation with some people involved in the reconstruction of a hospital in Sierra Leone’s Masanga region. At the time, ASF-DK was in the process of establishing itself as an organisation, and the project in Masanga was presented at the founding general assembly — architects were needed for the construction of staff housing, as a means for the hospital to attract qualified health workers to this part of Sierra Leone. Anne Katrine Røien, architect, became involved with the preliminary research on the first house in the Masanga project, which was later named Brown House by the local community. “My decision to join ASF-DK was based on my interest in the Masanga project which I found really exciting. Imagine gaining this kind of experience and training as an architect. It was quite appealing.” (Røien) The Cultural Imponderable The process concerning the first house was by far the most challenging. Architect Petter Brandberg was one of the construction managers on the Brown House project. “Before coming to Masanga to do the research, we had no drawings, no photos, no maps, no idea of what we were getting into. By the time the first team of architects returned home, we knew how to set up the project, who were to be the collaborators, and what the result should be.” (Brandberg) Despite the fact that a group of architects had already been in Masanga to study the area, when the building process was finally initiated it was difficult for the architects to reach a common understanding with the local labourers about the planned course of the project and its architecture.

To begin with, the Masanga Hospital wanted a house of 3 x 10 m, divided into three individual spaces. The architects had drawn a spatial sequence in which the spaces were connected, creating the sensation of being in one big, open space. This way the rooms would not seem too small. “As architects we liked that, but it was quite evident that the local labourers were absolutely not fond of the idea. They just could not describe exactly why.” (Brandberg) Engaging the local labourers as well as the future inhabitants of the houses is an important part of the process, and a way to attempt to adapt the design, materials and planning to the way things actually work in practice. “It is difficult to reach a joint, constructive solution together with someone who does not have experience in other ways of building and living. They do not state any reasons, they just say ‘no’. It is easier if someone says ‘no, we prefer to have many smaller rooms because that would leave more wall space.’ That is an explanation you can work with.” (Brandberg) In the local houses in Masanga, you do not see any big rooms. The houses are divided into a number of small rooms and are thus anything but open. “It is a way of living, defined by culture, and the question is whether we should come and lash out at that because we find that big open rooms are pleasant. It occurred to us how difficult it can be to apply your own acquired architectural knowledge onto another culture.” (Brandberg) When the architects asked the locals how they preferred the house to be, much of the exercise was to balance out their conception of a modern house with what was suitable in the actual context. They wanted water closets but the area had no running water, and using dry-toilets instead was not something the locals were interested in. They preferred to walk to the well and get the water to flush the toilet. They also wanted

European-style houses, i.e. square buildings made from concrete, even though this is disadvantageous for the indoor climate in the tropics.

The Importance of Anchoring the Building Projects Locally To realise the architectural ambitions, it is important to understand and work with the local community. As of October 2013, Masanga Architects has completed three houses constituting six homes. The project is one of the only of ASF-DK projects with an evolving process over its course. This has given the group substantial knowledge about how to build in the tropics, and how to approach cultural challenges in the design and construction phases. When working on the first house, the group plotted every detail in advance,

When the work is done, Masanga Architects write recommendations for the craftsmen to support them in their future search for work, and in case they should apply to an educational institution. ASF-DK and the Masanga Hospital have long been concocting a plan to make a school for the local workers. This will likely lead to better employment opportunities and could, in the long run, enable people in the area to start up small businesses as an alternative to the strenuous and often dangerous work in the mines. “Many are very skilled, and some not as talented, but they learn from the process. Some have gone on to a school in Makeni after finishing working on the project, because they wanted a formal education.” (Røien) A local school for workers would be an important step toward ensuring a continuous development of building techniques, and at the same time it would anchor the process of developing solutions to the local challenges in Masanga. This would, however, require long-term planning and an upgraded infrastructure. “If you are patient and tolerant you can go really far. But there is a constant shortage of time and money, the projects can be clogged up by corrupt officials or gangsters, or nothing happens because the labourers vanish, or materials and tools do not arrive on time or are simply not obtainable in the country. The projects and the contexts you are bound up in are so rampageous that anything can happen.” (Brandberg)

Theme I — Case I — Article

Why Change the Traditional Way of Building Houses in Masanga at All? One issue is that many of the local houses have floors of rammed earth. The floors are fine, and favourable in terms of the climate, but when they become dry, cracks start to form and bacteria can move in. As a consequence the children get sick with diarrhea from sitting and eating on the floor. Building concrete floors would help to alleviate this problem. Another issue is that the houses have no windows, but openings without glass or shutters which allow mosquitos to enter easily, resulting in many cases of malaria. “Many improvements could be made, but for people there, getting sick from diarrhea and malaria — and some dying because of this — is a fact of life, and it has always been like this. They do not think that if you would build the floor in a different way or better the windows, fewer people would get sick. There are many things that we, as architects, would include when building the house, that they do not think about or do not have the means to do themselves.” (Brandberg) It is therefore important, according to Anne Katrine Røien, to enhance the local knowledge of craftsmanship, and at the same time promote design solutions to demonstrate that things can be done differently, for example in regard to health issues. “The projects serve to broaden both of our horizons — theirs and ours. Not only in relation to the Masanga project, but generally speaking when thinking about developing new ways of building and coming up with solutions. Together we can find new and better solutions to the challenges.” (Røien)

with explicit precision, exactly as it was supposed to be. Whereas the most recent building, Paula’s House (Case III), was based on a ground plan and section, and a continuously changing 3D model. “You have to explain your ideas very clearly. To the local labourers, measurements are not just measurements as on a tape measure. They are by eye. Just as saying: here is a drawing, the house is to be built like this and this, is a no-go. Something has to be there already, the building has to be commenced, or you draw the plan 1:1 on the construction site so that everyone can see what you are talking about. A scaled drawing is too abstract.” (Røien) After constructing three houses in the same area, several of the workers know how to decipher the drawings, and meanwhile the architects have realised that things move a lot faster if the workers use sticks as measuring tools. Many of the workers are illiterate and cannot read tape measures, and, moreover, exact measurements are not that useful since the dimensions of the materials are seldom precise.

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Case II Monkey House The Masanga House number two was designed as a prototype for staff dwellings. At that time, in 2009, the Masanga Hospital wanted a total of 250 dwellings before 2016. To accommodate this ambitious plan, Masanga Architects came up with the idea to design and construct a prototype house made from locally available materials, that was cheap and easy for the locals to copy. The integration of climatic solutions such as natural ventilation, daylight and cooling in the architecture was bound to the ambition to create suitable spaces in the warm and humid tropics. Low-tech solutions and cheap, locally available materials were prioritised due to the tight economic frame. To the surprise of Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark (ASF-DK) the house has never been used by anyone but monkeys, thus the name Monkey House. Today it has been dismantled, but the following presents the building as it was.

Theme I — Case II — Monkey House


1. MONKEY HOUSE Function: Housing Client: The Association Friends of Masanga Type: New construction Year of construction: 2010 Size: 31 m² Materials: Concrete, timber, plywood, zinc, bamboo and polycarbonate.

Construction time: 3 months Cost: 23,900 DKK / 4,300 USD Price pr. m²: 770 DKK / 138 USD Sponsors: The Danish Arts Foundation, The Dreyer Foundation, Ella and Helge Rasmussens Foundation and The Boat Club of 1990.

Masanga Architects: Rasmus Hamann, architect and construction manager. Jonas Hundebøll, architect and construction manager. Camilla Kragh, architect. Petter Brandberg, architect.

Labourers: Local craftsmen and labourers. Published material: Masanga Architects, Rasmus Hamann

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2. SURROUNDINGS The house is placed in a clearing between high trees. One of the long sides is open and faces the road; it contains the more public living room. The other side, facing into the wind and rain, contains the more private sleeping rooms.

3. HEAVY CORE The heavy concrete core contains bath, toilet and kitchen, taking advantage of the fire and water resistant properties of concrete. The toilet is closed to control the ventilation outlet through the pipes, avoiding odour around the dwelling.

4. LIGHT FACADE The bamboo facade slopes slightly outwards, to prevent the sun from hitting the facade and causing overheating in the bedrooms. It gives a more airy experience of the small bedrooms and makes space for a raised bed.

5. PASSIVE TECHNOLOGY The pitch of the roof is determined by the sun’s path. The double roof construction ensures natural ventilation. The house is raised up off the ground to enhance air movement under the house, cooling the house from beneath and avoiding the heat of the ground.


a b

g h


i d j

e 6.–7.

Theme I — Case II — Monkey House





8.–9. 1m

6. CONSTRUCTION The light structure is build of 1x8 inch, 1x6 inch and 1x4 inch lumber cut from the forests around Masanga. The wood is treated with preservatives to prevent rot and termites.

7. CROSS SECTION B-B A. Zink boards B. Ventilation pipe C. Bamboo gutter D. Sink of in-situ concrete E. Drain around foundation F. Polycarbonate boards G. Mosquito net H. Shutters I. Wire system for shutters J. Wood facade

8. TEST OF MATERIALS Local wood and locally produced bamboo mats are used in a new way and also joined with accessible, industrialised products such as polycarbonate sheets. Large tolerances were designed to meet the quality of the materials and the skills of the craftsmen.

9. CROSS SECTION C-C K. Mosquito net L. Bamboo railing M. Double roof construction for cooling N. Ventilation opening O. Bamboo mats (interior cladding) P. Bamboo facade Q. Elevated to improve ventilation and avoid pests

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10. LIVING ROOM The main room is a space for the social activities of the occupants. The openness ensures a good relation to the surroundings, as the mosquito net is the only separation from the natural surroundings and the public path.

11. KITCHEN The cooking facility is a stove in rammed earth, placed in connection with the living room. This means that the kitchen is partly indoor, partly outdoor (ideas based on user interviews).
















12.–13. N Theme I — Case II — Monkey House








12. SPATIAL ORGANISATION There are three sleeping rooms (tB, C and D) — suitable for a family or three single nurses, and one living room which also functions as balcony. The halfopen space (E) provides shelter, enhances natural ventilation and connects socially to the street.

13. PLAN A. Entrance B. Bedroom (4,1 m²) C. Bedroom (4,1 m²) D. Bedroom (4,1 m²) E. Living room (13 m²) F. Cooking (2,1 m²) G. Stove of rammed earth H. Bath (2,2 m²)

I. Sink of in-situ concrete J. Toilet (1,4 m²) K. Separate toilet L. Entrance M. Ventilation pipes N. Drain O. Roof overhang P. Stair of tree trunks

14. SECTION A-A Q. Polycarbonate roof R. Window openings of mosquito net S. Bamboo railing T. Wooden floor boards U. Pad foundation V. Stair of tree trunks

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15. TRANSLUCENT ROOF The ceiling boards are of translucent polycarbonate to create a lighter room. The polycarbonate boards will not rot — a frequent problem in the area because of bat excrement.

16. BAMBOO IN THE FACADE Bamboo was chosen for the facade due the budget. However, the quality was low and many canes were discarded. It demanded many manhours to make the material suitable for building with.


17. PROTECTION The bamboo was treated differently on each of the facade’s three sections to test various solutions. The first batch was untreated, the second varnished and the third left in the river for two weeks, to wash the sugary residue out of the bamboo.

18. BAMBOO WALLS The inner walls were covered with locally produced bamboo mats. It was difficult to get the bamboo in the facade dense enough, so a mosquito net was installed between the inner and outer walls.











22% 26%


19. WOODEN FLOOR It was not possible to construct a tight floor with the available quality of wood. Wider gaps were left, since it was decided that it would be better to be able to see and sweep away insects, rather than having them hiding in the cracks.

20. TERMITES The wooden boards were treated with a chemical impregnation product on three sides. The interior floor surface was left untreated to protect the users. Unfortunately, this allowed termites to enter and eat the floor from the inside out.


21. BUILDING BUDGET 69% Construction material 15% Salary 8% Tools, nails 5% Transport 3% Other

22. MATERIAL BUDGET 28% Wood 26% Other material 22% Cement 16% Zinc 6% Plywood 3% Gravel, sand

Theme I — Case II — Monkey House


Aside from monkeys nobody ever used house number two, thus the local renamed it to Monkey House. The reason why nobody wanted to move in might never be fully discovered, but this conversation assembled of various opinions bring us closer to an understanding. The Story of a Monkey House by Steen Andersen and Tyra Dokkedahl

“The question is, if you’re already living in an overcrowded house in bad condition, why wouldn’t you want to move into a new house that is vacant? It’s hard to grasp why nobody wished to move in.” – Petter Brandberg, Architect, Masanga Architects, interview, 04.03.2013.

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“Why nobody wants to live in Monkey House? It’s too different, quite simply, we’re not used to that. It rests on piles and you need to jump on stubs to get in there.” – Mr. Stop, Foreman, Paula’s House, interview, 22.05.2013. Good intentions and sustainable design are not enough. Time, money, defined partnerships, empowerment and communication are essential if the architects’ experimental approach to building in new and improved ways is to be a success. Monkey House has by far been the most useful learning experience for Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark (ASF-DK), at the time a young, inexperienced organisation with perhaps too great ambitions for its level of field experience. Idealism Meets Reality Monkey House, the second house, was built at the end of 2010. At that time, Masanga Hospital envisioned that ASF-DK would provide 250 dwellings before 2016. The most realistic approach to fulfilling this ambitious goal was to build an accessible and ideal prototype, which would also enable the local workers to put up the housing in demand without the assistance of architects from the outside. Scarce resources required that the construction make the most out of limited materials. On the basis of the experiences from building Brown House and the assessment of the future need of dwellings for Masanga Hospital, ASF-DK formulated the brief for architecture student Rasmus Hamann’s thesis project.

The aim was to create a prototype of ‘the ideal house’ for the tropics, a 1:1 low-budget mock-up that would be easy to copy. In an in-depth study over the course of one semester, the social, climatic and technical foundations for the project were formed. The project focused on applying the use of local materials and passive, environmentally sustainable techniques such as sunlighting and natural ventilation and processes of cooling. Furthermore, it sought to improve on the living conditions of the vernacular clay buildings with a brighter environment better adapted to the climate. The future users, three medical students, were to have their own rooms with a sleeping loft and table, a small private space combined with a larger shared space. The house was planned to be erected in three months, but unfortunately this was not enough time to complete the project. The indoor walls and the flooring needed reinforcing and the house was left with the interior unfinished, but otherwise habitable. ASF-DK never sent anyone to complete the house, hoping that the future residents would take it upon themselves to finish the last details, which would have made it liveable in the eyes of the locals. The informal structure of ASF-DK at the time, and the absence of communication between involved participants seem to be the main reasons why the responsibility of finishing the house, and of following up and arranging a maintenance policy with The Association Friends of Masanga was not placed on anyone. Instead the house stood almost finished and was left to decay slowly, only to be dismantled after three years. Even though Monkey House no longer exists, the project has informed the subsequent projects of ASF-DK, where the techniques of natural ventilation, pitched roofs and pad foundations have been implemented with success. More importantly, this experience taught the organisation to take the full responsibility of the building projects — of longevity, local involvement and more well defined partnerships.

Let’s start from the beginning. With regards to the intentions of this project, which dreams and needs do you think were the most important for the project to fulfil? “The objective of house number two is to provide the Masanga Hospital with a prototype of modern housing, that is at the least ecologically and economically exacting, and describes the principles for the development of future houses. The foundation for the project will be an examination of building materials, technology, indoor climate, cooking, sanitary and living conditions in the tropics. Preliminary studies of the site will be essential for the accomplishment of the task. The home has to be flexible and adaptable so that it can accommodate a family with children or several single nurses. The building will be constructed from local materials, but should introduce new ways of processing these — this way it will represent a hospital with a modern, ecological, and socially and economically sustainable outlook.” – Silje Eøy Sollien, Architect, Masanga Architects, brief, 21.10.2009.

“I like a very simple dwelling, but with good toilet facilities. I like an outdoor kitchen because I like the fresh air. I don’t like rooms that do not have any kind of ventilation or fresh air. I like to be outside to have fresh air. It is too hot inside. And I like to cook. I use coal in the stove, when I have to make something quick and I for example have to go back to work afterwards. Otherwise I use wood to be sure that the food is well prepared — because wood burns longer. Always two doors in the living room because of security.” – Emma, Nurse, Masanga Hospital, interview, 10.02.2010. “I would like a house with room for my family and my extended family. But I can manage with three to four rooms. One sitting room and one bedroom for boys, one for girls and one for me and my wife. Kitchen is in the back of the house which contains water taps, refrigerator, stove for gas and storage space. And an outdoor kitchen for making food on fire. An outdoor tap will be needed as well. The bedroom should have a closet for food, a big bed and a table.” – Patrice, Nurse, Masanga Hospital, interview, 10.02.2010. The architects approached the house as an experiment with the aim of making the ideal low-budget house for the tropical climate. They tested some spatial and technical ideas and tried to introduce a new approach to housing in Masanga based on the available materials. What do people think about how the architectural expressions fit the social customs of the local community? For example, what would you think of a house built on columns to improve air movement? “[Laughing] It’s an idea. I built my chicken house on olumns, because of all the water in the rainy season. It’s also good in order to avoid bacteria and other kinds of threats. Furthermore, the shit from the chickens just falls down and the house is kept clean.” – Patrice, interview, 10.02.2010. “The construction details and ideas have to be as simple as possible, and will be developed in cooperation with workers from Masanga, as a means to establish local ownership and render external, expert supervision superfluous. Construction solutions should be simple, but wellconsidered and proven. It’s an aim of the project that

Theme I — Case II — Article

A Conversation in Fragments The question many people ask is, why did nobody want to live in a newly built house that was supposed to be ideal, and was situated in an area with a serious housing shortage? Others wonder why there was no follow-up done on the project and why the final details were never taken care of. Some hold the view that there were too many objectives to realise in just one house. Some simply take the project as an example of what not to do. From an outside perspective, what perhaps stands out most is the lack of clear communication surrounding the project, both within ASF-DK and in Masanga. Post-rationalisation, rumours and mythmaking seem to hold as much weight as the facts and the voices of the involved parties, when one shares the story. Everybody has an opinion on the project, but no one has the full story. The following conversation never took place. It is composed of quotes from interviews, e-mails, and project data in an attempt to create a coherent picture of the many diverging views on Monkey House. It is the hope that this narrative will reflect the faulty communication that apparently arose, in particular after the house was finished.

the ideas and the good building code from Masanga will spread to other projects in the region.” – Silje Eøy Sollien, brief, 21.10.2009. “It was a project that should come up with an ideal house for the tropics, where challenges and problems such as ventilation, malaria, diarrhoea etc. were addressed. The team only had a period of three months to build the house. They finished just in time, but there were some important details they didn’t manage to complete. The rooms had a peculiar dimension with a quite high ceiling, in order to be fully usable they required the construction of a bed loft and a table underneath, but they didn’t get to that.” – Anne Katrine Røien, Architect, Masanga Architects, interview, 04.03.2013.

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“Nice design. Our favourite. But the spaces between the floor boards are too wide; all kinds of creep can come into the house.” – Claudia Byjen, Doctor, Chief of Medical Staff, Masanga Hospital, interview, 21.05.2013. “There are a lot of challenges associated with working on projects in a culture different from your own. Their perception and imagination are different from ours when it comes to discussing possibilities and new ideas for housing.” – Petter Brandberg, interview, 04.03.2013. “The question is, how are you going to convince the local community to use the local materials in a different way?” – Rasmus Hamann, Architect, Masanga Architect, interview, 01.07.2013. “For the Monkey House, for example, the architects used bamboo canes for the walls even though we told them that this material is only used to build fences for our animals. Not for homes, not even for goods. If you walk around you see mud and brick houses, not houses of bamboo. The architects like to come and try new ideas, but if people are coming to help the people of Sierra Leone, it has to be beneficial for the locals on their own side, or else they should stay at home and just send the money.” – Jinnah Musa, Logistic Manager, Masanga Hospital, interview, 24.05.2013. “And what would it take to get them to approve of the idea of using a dry toilet?” – Rasmus Hamann, interview, 01.07.2013. “The toilet facilities are poor. The architects have put a bucket under the toilet, one you need to empty at night.

It’s bad for the environment, because where do people empty this bucket? In the shrub or the river. The architects wouldn’t take advice from the local workers — it’s our money, so we decide. There, it’s done, good-bye!” – Jinnah Musa, interview, 22.05.2013. “Collecting water in the well to put in the toilet is just crazy.” – Petter Brandberg, e-mail, 17.10.2013. I would like you to tell me a bit about the construction process. How did you imagine it would be — ideally speaking? And how was the site and the actual circumstances? “It should be quick. Don’t ask everyone. They all have different opinions, and it’s better just to stick to your own plan.” – Patrice, interview, 10.02.2010. “The foreman that the architects had employed for the construction of Brown House was engaged in another project for the hospital and didn’t have time. So there was no foreman involved with Monkey House, instead we hired workers from different places. It was a bit stressful and frustrating. There were several new ways in which we wanted to construct the buildings that the workers weren’t familiar with. It took a lot of convincing and explaining. Overall, we didn’t make major changes to the existing plans, but during the building process details were revised on site according to the craftsmen’s advice. I think that many of the workers were sceptical towards the design, but not that they saw it as something monkey-like.” – Rasmus Hamann, interview, 01.07.2013. “There are some problems with the materials. The building process was rapid, and the construction is too frail, and nobody dares to live in the house for fear of burglary. Then there is the fact that the house rests on piles which elevate it from the ground. This is a good way to ventilate it and to minimise the use of concrete, but to enter you need to step on stumps, one for each foot, to get onto the terrace of the house. The house is an interesting experiment, but the local residents probably think it’s odd. That might be one of the reasons why they named it Monkey House.” – Anne Katrine Røien, interview, 04.03.2013. “We could have spent one more week working on the house, then we would have finished it.” – Rasmus Hamann, e-mail, 08.10.2013.

Since the completion of Monkey House, and especially once it was clear that nobody intended to move in, there has been lots of discussion about the project. Looking back, what are your thoughts on why things turned out the way they did?

“It was intended as an experiment and a prototype, and the idea was to take the experience from Brown House further. But if you can’t continue the development of the ideas from Monkey House because nobody wants to live there, then I think the costs have been too great.” – Rasmus Hamann, interview, 01.07.2013. “I don’t think of it as a failed project. It was really important and it’s still a step in the right direction. It’s cheap and built with local materials and very little time.” – Petter Brandberg, e-mail, 17.10.2013. So today, some three years after it was erected, it remains unused. What are the future prospects of Monkey House? “We will never get any locals or anybody else from Sierra Leone to move into Monkey House. But I would think that in the long run foreigners would use it. My boyfriend and I considered moving down there. In a way it’s quite exotic, built on piles and made from bamboo situated in the middle of the jungle. You would need a new mosquito net, and to knock two of the smaller rooms into one. And, then you would have to do something about the gaps between the floor boards, so snakes and other vermin cannot get in. We thought about putting up a fine-meshed net under the

“Our current plan is to send one or two architects to Masanga in September in order to repair the houses we already built — Brown House and Paula’s House. In regard to Monkey House, we’re planning to tear it down.” – Charlotte Wilhelmsen, Project coordinator, Masanga Architects, e-mail, 20.06.2013. “The Monkey House is not in use and we cannot use it, so demolition is the best option. Maybe we can use the good materials for other purposes.” – Claudia Byjen, e-mail, 18.09.2013. “Half of Monkey House was demolished yesterday. The rest should be gone when we come back to Masanga later today. We fixed the little yellow house in front of Brown House so that we can store all the materials from Monkey House, and avoid them getting stolen overnight until we’re gonna reuse them. We saw the first snake yesterday. It was curled up under the last zinc sheet at Monkey House, and was probably my height in length, but luckily a bit slimmer.” – Signe Kramer Mikkelsen, Architect, Masanga Architects, e-mail, 03.10.2013.

Theme I — Case II — Article

“Rasmus’ thesis work projected a larger construction. Before he went to Masanga, we trimmed the project over and over again to cut down the expenses. Originally the idea was that all materials should be recycled, this was changed so that everything was to be new and the total costs wouldn’t exceed 15,000 DKK. We wanted to know if building such a house was a possibility, if so, it would make it much easier for us to build more houses in the future. And the result of it all was a Monkey House, where the main idea of the house was taken to pieces and cut to the bone. This was all an experiment in order to do the work as inexpensively and simply as possible, because raising the money is so difficult. But you could have done a better job with additional time and money.” – Petter Brandberg, interview, 04.03.2013.

floor, instead of completely closing off the gaps, this would retain the air circulation which is one of the house’s really good ideas. But if the termites are about to ruin the floor, then moving down there might mean too much work.” – Marie Børresen, Physiotherapist, Masanga Hospital, interview, 27.05.2013.

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Case III Paula’s House Paula’s House contains four dwellings, house number three to six of the intended ten. The experience gained from the previous projects led Masanga Architects to rethink the design strategy and construction process. With the expectation of unknown obstacles during the construction phase in mind, the architects changed their focus to how the building should perform, rather than relying on a specific material or method. The overall design idea was to integrate several dwellings under one roof to minimize the construction costs as it is the largest expense. The building has a spacious common area and small private units. This flexible design strategy proved to be successful. It was easy to adapt to changes underway, where nearly everything was replaced, turned around or otherwise improvised. Even so, the final building still contained the main idea and turned out quite like the initial sketches.

Theme I — Case III — Paula’s House


1. PAULA’S HOUSE Function: Housing Client: The Association Friends of Masanga Type: New construction Year of construction: 2012 Size: 130m² Materials: Concrete block, plaster, wood, plywood and zinc.

Construction time: 9 months Cost: 138,000 DKK / 25,000 USD Price pr. m²: 10,000 DKK / 1,800 USD Sponsors: The Danish Arts Foundation, Paula & Aksel Nissens Foundation, Tema Architects (SE) and Arcona Architects.

Masanga Architects: Anne Katrine Røien, architect and construction manager, phase 1. Tue Bondo Arentoft, architecture student and construction manager, phase 2. Pi Ekblom, ASF-SE, architect and construction manager, phase 3. Cecilia Rudström, ASF-SE, architect and construction manager, phase 3.

Charlotte Wilhelmsen, project manager. Frida Sophie Vang Petersen, architect. Ana Als, architect Lasse Lauridsen, construction manager. Haakon Gilje Aarseth, architect. Labourers: Local craftsmen and labourers. Published material: Masanga Architects, Pi Ekblom and Cecilia Rudström.








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2,5 m

1m 5.

2. ONE ROOF The roof was the largest building cost. Housing four private dwelling units under a single roof minimised the building costs per dwelling significantly, and gave the architects the opportunity to rethink the spatial organisation between public and private.

3. DESIGN PRINCIPLES The focus was the social life in the house. To ensure privacy and security, solid walls were build around the dwelling units, while the shared area is characterised by openness, with a good view to the outside. The open plan and the hall provide cross ventilation.

4. SKETCH PLAN A. Shared living room and kitchen B. Dwelling units C. Shared hallway D. Shared bathroom and restroom

5. SKETCH SECTION The enclosed dwelling units face the outside wall of the house with small windows. The double roof structures allows ventilation to keep the units cool during the day.








Theme I — Case III — Paula’s House


N 6.–7.



2,5 m

1m 8.

6. PLAN DRAWINGS The final plan drawing is very similar to the initial sketched plan, even though the building changed a lot in the process. The plan was turned 180 degrees, the bath and toilets moved to an annexe and most materials were changed during construction.

7. FINAL PLAN A. Shared living room and kitchen B. Dwelling units C. Shared hallway D. Shared bathroom and restroom

8. FINAL ELEVATION In the end, the building expresses the ideas behind it. The closed facade represents private space, a light wood panel marks the semi-public entrance and the more public side of the house is characterised by openness, also from the outside.


50 — 49


9. FROM IDEA TO RESULT The flexible design strategy is shown in the three images. From the initial idea with a bamboo roof, through different trusses and an inverted plan to a similar final image, with concrete walls, zinc roof and trusses like those in Brown House (Case I).


10. 3D MODEL The building concept shown in a digital model used to investigate the building in 3D. The use of different materials and varying room sizes were explored in the model to prepare as well as possible for the construction phases.

11. FLEXIBILITY The flexible design strategy allowed the construction to be easily adapted to changes along the way, but even so, the main building concept was kept and the important goals were accomplished.

12. FOUNDATION The foundation was originally designed as a concrete pad foundation, but this changed when the construction manager Anne-Katrine Røien found an existing solid foundation from a ruin, which was reused and adapted to the project.

Theme I — Case III — Paula’s House


13. SOLID WALLS The walls were originally designed as bamboo panels covered in plaster, but this also changed during the construction phase. The locals preferred solid walls of concrete block, which they saw as the best way to make the interior secure.

14. TRUSSES The sketched trusses were changed by the labourers on the construction site to be similar to the trusses of Brown House (Case I).

15. BAMBOO ROOF The roof material changed based on some mockup tests and local feedback. The bamboo was replaced with zinc, which lasts longer, demands less maintenance and has a higher status in the eyes of the local people.

16. HALLWAY The entrances to the dwelling units are off of the hallway to give the optimal feeling of protection as well as an overview of the activities in the building. The hallway itself is spacious to allow flexible use.

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17. SHARED LIVING SPACE The dwelling unit seen from the shared living space. The wooden roof structure allows good ventilation of the interior spaces and gives them a light and elegant appearance. The white walls have a smooth, even surface.


18. SHARED KITCHEN The windows lack mosquito netting due to budget cuts. The prices of building supplies are comparable with Denmark, making the installation of a mosquito net a large expense for the hospital. It will be installed by Masanga Architects in autumn 2013.

19. FINAL DWELLING UNIT The dwelling units are constructed as closed boxes with plywood ceilings, to provide the residents with security and minimise rodents. The windows are made as glass lamellas to optimise light, security and ventilation in the dwelling units.

20. ADVICE FOR BUILDING IN SIERRA LEONE Pi Ekblom, architect and construction manager, Paula’s House, Masanga

ADVICE FOR BUILDING IN SIERRA LEONE It is important to be flexible. Plan, and plan the practical work particularly well. Even if you can’t keep it, keep a plan for support. 4%

Make thorough research on the site, the climate, the landscape, cultural conditions, the future residents and their daily behaviour.


Talk to people. They know a lot, you won’t be able to find in books or guess yourself.


38% Building budget

14% Theme I — Case III — Paula’s House



3% 17%


Material budget




21. NAMING THE HOUSE The house was named Palua’s House after the Paula & Aksel Nissens Foundation, the main sponsor of the project.

22. INHABITANTS The current residents are Dr. David, his two children, and the medical student Samuel. They are mostly satisfied with the standard of living and the indoor climate, but they would prefer larger private units, running water and a solid roof on the toilets instead of bamboo.

23. MATERIALS 38% Concrete 14% Wood 25% Zinc 19% Plywood 4% Other

24. BUDGET 73% Construction materials 7% Transport 17% Salary 3% Other

Previous experience made the architects to base Paula’s House upon a flexible design strategy. The architectural focus was kept on the building’s program, which allowed for fundamental changes during the construction process, leading to a successful end result. Space for Changes by Steen Andersen

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“It’s a bit like the kids game where you fold a piece of paper, and one draws the head, and another the upper body, and a third one the legs. One can see what has been done previously, but one does not have the entire background.” – Pi Ekblom, Architect, Masanga Architects, ASF-SE. The experience from Brown House and Monkey House were highly valuable in the designing and building of Paula’s House. Masanga Architects decided only to outline the main idea and a range of construction principles in advance. This enabled a continuous adaptation of the project to the actual circumstances once the teams were in Masanga. In this way, the house took shape as the process went along, depending on the choice of materials, discussions with the craftsmen and the decisions made by the different construction managers. Even so, the building appears much as imagined, but more importantly both the craftsmen and end users are overall happy with the result. In three phases, Masanga Architects went to Masanga to build Paula’s House — Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark (ASF-DK)’s third building for the Masanga Hospital. The first architect on the project, Anne Katrine Røien, expanded an existing foundation, flipped the orientation of the plan and built the walls. The second architect, Tue Bondo Arentoft, built the roof construction, which was also changed on-site. This time at the request of the craftsmen, who wished to use the same construction as for the roof of Brown House. The final team finished off the project by completing the roof, adding doors and windows and securing the house with metal bars. The team of craftsmen, and in particular the foreman, Abdulai Foday aka Mr. Stop — a student of construction engineering in Freetown, came to be the constant

element in a process otherwise characterised by a repeated shift from architect to architect, each with his or her own approach to the project. Bamboo — the Final Battle Two Swedish architects, Pi Ekblom and Cecilia Rudström of Architecture Sans Frontières Sweden, made up the third team, responsible for executing the finishing details and security measures of the building. Based on interviews with the future users, they enclosed the building’s public areas for security reasons, yet maintained the idea of four dwellings under one roof. They also changed the roof cladding made in the previous phase. “When we arrived, the craftsmen had laid half the roof in bamboo with a specific technique that Tue used. But the bamboo was beginning to crack and the roof was not tight. They don’t tend to maintain their buildings well in Sierra Leone, and we were certain that the roof wouldn’t last.” (Ekblom) Mr Stop and the craftsmen shared this opinion. In general, bamboo is not appreciated as a valid construction material by the community, other than for fencing and animal sheds. Even so, Masanga Architects have used it in all projects, because it is cheap, renewable, grows in the back yard and also has considerable aesthetic appeal. Though Mr. Stop was the foreman on the whole building process, he did not feel he could express his opinion, not even when encouraged to do so by the architects. “People were coming to the house to start working with us. Then a new worker comes that I don’t like, but this is Africa, I don’t have the authority to say, I don’t like this man. Then the architects want to build a bamboo roof, but I don’t have the power to say: I don’t like that bamboo. Right. I’ll always be behind those in power and just do what they

Building Security From Recycled Materials The initial discussions between the architects and the craftsmen were mostly about the choice of materials. The future occupants’ number one priority was security. Thus, if the idea of a big, open area for everyone was going to be realised, it was necessary to acquire

metal bars to be mounted where the common area was open to the outside. Otherwise the occupants would need to keep all of their belongings in their own rooms where the doors could be locked and the windows closed. “The only problem was that metal bars are very expensive in Sierra Leone, and since we had to buy zinc sheets for the roof we didn’t have the money.” (Ekblom) The team got in touch with Mr. Fooday aka Mr. Fancy, who is responsible for the generators at the hospital. He knew of an abandoned ruin in the jungle that had metal bars. “Everyone in the hospital’s management group agreed we could get the bars. Otherwise, they didn’t have any influence on the design of the house. We chose to have an open dialogue with the craftsmen with regards to the design. We only asked the management group about the bars, because they manage all houses and ruins, so if you want to take anything, you always have to ask them.” (Ekblom) The craftsmen, however, thought that the reuse of metal bars from a ruin somewhere in the jungle was a lousy idea, because these were old and unattractive. There were three remaining possibilities: to follow the example set by Brown House and downgrade the security issue, to close off the common area with walls or to buy new, unused metal bars. None of these were ideal due to either function or money, so the architects chose to go on with the bars from the ruin. “Often you need to take people by the hand and go to the place to get them in on the idea. If we hadn’t been two architects on the project, keeping an overall view of the process with the continuous dialogue and negotiations would have been insurmountable. You step often on some people’s toes, but hope that you inspire and teach others. After we dismounted the bars from the ruin, cleaned, polished and painted them, the craftsmen also found them nice and usable and everyone was happy.” (Ekblom) Paula’s House has so far been the most optimal construction process of all the Masanga projects. A flexible design made adjustments possible throughout the construction, in response to availability of materials, input from the users and the skills of the craftsmen. It also made space for an ongoing dialogue with the partners. The architects managed to juggle the needs of the locals with their own architectural ambitions in such a way that both local building traditions and modern, sustainable techniques became part of a successful result.

Theme I — Case III — Article

say. But on the other hand, if people after two–three months say, the roof isn’t good, it’s not nice. Then this won’t stick to me, because I’ve just done the work, nothing more, I didn’t make the bad decision.” (Mr. Stop) Aside from cultural differences and the allocation of responsibilities, the language barrier is the greatest challenge. The craftsmen sometimes have a hard time expressing their requests and opinions to the foreign architects. Jinnah Musa, the man-of-all-work at the hospital, was also the mediator when it came to resolving misunderstandings and discrepancies. In his job, communication and mutual understanding are invaluable tools. Thus, when he became involved in the discussion about the bamboo roof at Paula’s House, his first move was to talk to the craftsmen. “At times they tell me that they’ve tried to express their point of view, but felt a lack of understanding from the side of the architects. So I talk to the architects and tell them that if they choose to go on as planned, the final result won’t be optimal. Based on my comprehension of the craftsmen’s point of view and my insight in the local community, I try to give advice in terms of what’s actually going to work, and what isn’t. It was as a result of a process like this that Paula’s House ended up with a roof of zinc instead of bamboo as originally planned.” (Musa) As the roof is one of the most important elements of a building, protecting the building from rain, intense sunlight, reptiles and mangoes falling from the trees, Pi Ekblom and Cecilia Rudström decided to change the construction and replace the bamboo with zinc — without conferring with Masanga Architects back at home. “When working on a project like the one in Masanga, you can’t really communicate with the others in Denmark. You’re in the middle of the jungle and phoning Denmark or mailing sketches back and forth isn’t a possibility. Thus you will need to make the decisions single-handedly, you’re responsible for those decisions and for doing a good job. Even though a bamboo roof was what had been planned — and it’s cheap and constructed of local materials, no medical students or doctors intend to live in a house with a roof of bamboo, and it will end up being a house without occupants.” (Ekblom)

Over the last five years, Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark has focused on building in Sierra Leone. Substantial efforts have been invested. What have we learned? What lies ahead, particularly focusing on housing? The Challenge of Making Architecture in Housing Projects by Jørgen Andreasen and Jørgen Eskemose Andersen, Associate professors, former and present heads, Department of Human Settlements, KADK

56 — 55

Often when we architects complete a building, if it is attractive to a European and nice photos can be taken, we are happy and disappear without looking back much. The moment of truth is when the users see in reality what they may not have understood when the project was presented. In the case of the staff houses at the Masanga Hospital, as illustrated in the previous article on Monkey House, Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark (ASF-DK) has gathered experience that is crucial as a stepping stone for discussions with future generations of its architects. Making Architecture in a Foreign Context Young, relatively inexperienced architects volunteer much of the work of ASF-DK, driven by a desire to implement the projects they design in a seemingly exotic setting outside of Europe. Compared with most Danish architects, however, those in ASF-DK have a more conscious focus on context. A foreign and complex context, such as in West Africa where ASF-DK is active, calls for elaborate studies of social and cultural issues, expectations, values and ways of living. Finally, the issue of operating in a context of widespread poverty calls for a sensitive and modest approach. A constant challenge is the obvious aim to deliver architecture and not just buildings. In a foreign country, the architect sometimes has the possibility to implement creative or novel ideas, particularly when it comes to public buildings. Over time, the architecture of schools, government buildings, hotels etc. changes steadily. There are conventions, but the room for manoeuvring is ample. Politicians and project owners are concerned with demonstrating their own importance, and hence are often eager to be related to iconic architecture, The Bio Learning Centre designed by ASF-DK, later shown in this book, is a good example.

The success of a project is, indeed, conditioned by the local context. It demands proper process handling and continued supervision. Sensitivity to the site and terrain. Research into the quality, price and availability of local building materials. Concern about the skills and experience of contractors and craftsmen. Studies of climate, threats from rain, wind and termites. How are buildings normally maintained? What are the developer’s desires — functionally, socially, culturally and perhaps politically? When operating in Africa under the umbrella of ASF-DK, there are additional criteria for success: did we enhance local capability, skills, and knowledge in a sustainable way? Did the project widen its impact by igniting creative and innovative thinking? Did we challenge conventional thinking in a respectful and constructive manner? Or, did we simply deliver a building which meets the programmatic requirements, but with limited — if any — added value for the local population? The Architecture of Housing ASF-DK has to realise that when it comes to the design and construction of dwellings, we are concerned with issues very different from in other architectural projects. Low-cost housing projects are not prestigious and are therefore unattractive to politicians and other key decision makers, unless implemented on a large scale. On the other hand, for the user, housing is of great importance, as it is intimately related to private life. Homes are symbolic, and architectural expression can be read as a status indicator, as the Monkey House so clearly demonstrates. Your house is part of your image. The architectural expression matters so much, that the architect designing dwellings has in fact less freedom to manoeuvre than within institutional buildings.

ever evolving and what was previously the norm may differ today. That said, changes are not radical, and the process is evolving over many decades. A certain traditional approach to building techniques and styles may be identified, but as argued here, with good reasons. There seems to be a trend towards individualised aspirations and architectural expression, especially in new house construction for the more wealthy, with elaborate plans including non-rectangular forms, asymmetrical structure and special features such as bay windows. The previous ideals of how a typically ‘proper’ and socially representative house should look are thus changing, and better-off residents are taking the lead with inspiration from more affluent neighbourhoods. This is still mostly happening without the involvement of architects. Future Prospects on Low-income Housing The involvement and role of architects in the development of housing for the poorer sectors is limited. Draftsmen and others, not fully qualified architects, design most low-income housing projects. If focused on and understanding the context, foreign architects may contribute to improved house designs in urban Africa, and to more environment friendly building technologies. This shift is a challenge for the profession, not least within the educational institutions in the North and in the South. For the ASF-DK architects, there is space for engagement in housing projects for the lowincome and very poor populations, conditioned by local demands, dreams and not least economy. Most countries in the South of Africa have many well educated architects. Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark could take up this challenge to cooperate with local town planners, architects, builders and training institutions with a view to open up new opportunities for both parties, focused on shelter for the low-income majority. This must be done with respect for local conventions and practices, with a humble attitude and controlled ambitions — the architects must resist building their own personal architectural monuments.

Theme I — Essay

There are good reasons to be sensitive to what the norms and expectations are among local populations and end-users. It is important to show respect for traditions, and it is crucial to be humble and to try to understand what may at first glance appear to be conservatism. One must understand the complex reasons for traditional and contemporary forms and ways of building. The ability to control ones desire to build an architectural showcase is vital. An architect builds for a client so it is the needs of the clients that should be the first and foremost concern of the architect, whether the client is paying the fees or not. It is furthermore important to bear in mind that a relatively small segment of houses in Africa — and elsewhere, are built as staff houses, as employees are nowadays expected to find individual housing solutions regardless of where the place of employment is located. The Masanga houses are staff houses. The high standards for this category of houses are guided by normative practices. Staff houses are always built from conventional and robust materials in quite conservative designs. Anything less may be seen as humiliating. Such norms are impossible to change overnight. Nevertheless, the same person rejecting the Monkey House may be proud of her father’s mud house in the village. Rental housing dominates in much of urban Africa, while public housing production has virtually ceased everywhere. In some countries, the majority of dwellings are built by the residents, most often with the engagement of local, small-scale builders. Architectural features are important indicators of home, even without any involvement of architects. The small contracting companies in the building sector, often only one foreman or master and two to four labourers, are crucial actors in the house building sector as most homes are built without any technical assistance from either architects, engineers or other formally trained construction professionals. House building within the low-income sector is thus guided by these builders’ prior experience and the wishes, dreams and desires as expressed by the site owner. Supervision is carried out by this master builder and the client, who most often controls progress on site on a daily basis. Houses are built in a step-by-step building process with most houses built in phases, one room after the other. This process often influences the overall design as each added room has its own roof slope. Obviously, people build according their financial capacity, but increasingly they also try to live up to what seem to be emerging shared ideals of what a ‘proper house’ looks like. These norms and dreams are

Theme II


Project management is a discipline that comes natural to many architects, yet there are many things to learn to manage building projects well. Management theory and coaching are now common courses in the professional development of an architect, but to become a good leader, nothing is better than learning by doing. Hands-on experience on site with workers, handling materials and daily detours in the building process are the best foundation for directing construction projects successfully. Improvisation and planning are essential in both contexts but seem to be inversely proportional whilst the task remains the same. Well planned preparations provide the insight required for decision making, yet the courage to change the plan might be required to achieve the best result. In general, managing a building project comes down to juggling intentions and realities to reach the desired outcome.




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N N 0



SITE PLAN A. MECC B. Library C. School (opposite the street) D. Solar cells E. Rain water tank

ORIENTATION The building is oriented east/ west. The sun moves almost directly over the building, only changing its path by a few degrees over the year. Unlike in Nordic countries, you don’t want to get any sunlight into the building, because of the heat. Hence the outward-tilting facade.

Facts — City of Magburaka District: Tonkolili Location: Central Sierra Leone Population: 40,300 Population growth: 200% since 2004 Main industries: Trade and agriculture. Basic education (district): 310 primary schools (2004)

Higher education (district): 15 secondary schools (2004) Higher education (city): 2 secondary schools, 1 technical school Internet cafés: 2 (incl. MECC)

WWW.TOMAGBURAKA.NOW The Danish NGO Project REACT work with the re-construction of the educational sector in and around the town of Magburaka. For the construction of the new Magburaka Education and Computer Centre (MECC), Project REACT asked Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark (ASF-DK) for architectural help and guidance. Around Magburaka and Masanga, the local community still suffers from high poverty rates and a lack of infrastructure, electricity, public transport and access to print and electronic media. Without newspapers, TV or the internet, most people in the area have minimal or no connection to the outside world.

Magburaka Education AND Computer Centre The centre aims to help the local community by providing educational services and increased access to knowledge through internet and education. In March 2009, REACT initiated the project to develop a strategy for establishing educational centres throughout Sierra Leone. In the Autumn of 2009, REACT sent the first two project managers to Masanga to set the groundwork for the Masanga Education Centre (MEC). In the summer of 2011 a temporary educational centre started operating out of rented premises in Magburaka. So far, the centre has about 200 students, and also trains headmasters and teachers in IT-literacy. In 2012 REACT joined forces with ASF-DK to begin the construction of a permanent educational centre in Magburaka, next to the town’s local library. PROJECT REACT The Danish NGO is a part of the humanitarian organisation RETRO Association, which runs two non-profit cafes in Copenhagen: Café Retro and RETRO N, as well as a restaurant battling food waste: Rub & Stub. The money generated by these enterprises is used to support socio-economic projects and humanitarian work whose aim is to create and establish economically viable ventures in developing countries. The goal is that with time, each initiative must be able to continue to function independently and without financial support from Denmark. So far, RETRO’s cafés in Copenhagen have collected more than 250,000 DKK in support of educational projects abroad.

Theme II — Case IV — Context

EDUCATION AND MEDIA As a result of the civil war in Sierra Leone, little development has occurred in the country’s educational system, and the majority of school children are unable to complete a primary education. The lack of proper education has hampered especially the young generation’s employment opportunities and has contributed to high illiteracy, for men 55% and women 82%. There is a shortage of school materials in the country and school buildings are often in poor condition. Due to limited electric lighting, children and young people are unable to study in hours of darkness. More than 50% of all teachers have no training and do not possess sufficient levels of knowledge or teaching skills. Furthermore, access to information and new technology are severely limited, which hinders learning and societal growth. In Sierra Leone, radio remains the most widely used form of media in the country, with 85% of the population having access to a radio, while access to television and print media is mostly limited to the citizens of Freetown. Relatively cheap and easily accessible mobile technologies, and the recent introduction of 3G services, have made mobile phones and the internet a popular and effective means of communication. Mobile technology has spread to all parts of the country. Internet access is still limited due to the lack of stable power supplies and slow con-

nection speeds outside the capital city, a problem often referred to as a digital divide. Sierra Leone is ranked as the third worst country in terms of providing internet access for their citizens, only succeeded by Myanmar and North Korea. As of 2008, there were only approximately 60,000 high-end internet users in Sierra Leone. Since then, access to the internet has been spreading through public services, 3G and applications for mobile phones.

62 — 61

Case IV Magburaka Education and Computer Centre Cross ventilation, solar panels, rainwater collection, cooling, local materials, comfort, functionality and security are the architectural parameters of Magburaka Education and Computer Centre (MECC). All of which are roughly drawn and planned ahead — as much as possible — in Denmark. Well equipped with construction drawings, money and a time frame of six months, Jonas Danborg traveled to Magburaka in January 2013 as construction manager on the building project. He published his experiences in a public journal on Facebook under the name Roaming Mind, where one could follow the building’s progress along with his most exciting and most challenging moments as construction manager. The diary is a valuable insight into his reflections on the place, staff, management tactics and culture, and and could function as a lesson in how one might successfully plan and construct a building in Sierra Leone.

Theme II — Case IV — Magburaka Education and Computer Centre


1. MAGBURAKA EDUCATION AND COMPUTER CENTRE Function: Public education and computer centre Client: Project REACT Type: New construction Year of construction: 2013–2014 Size: 245m2 Materials: Wood, earth blocks, metal and concrete.

Construction time: one year Price: 140,000 DKK / 25,400 USD Price per m²: 875 DKK / 159 USD (+ sun cells: 20,000 DKK / 3,600 USD) Sponsors: Project REACT and RETRO Cafés in Copenhagen, Denmark.

MECC Team: Carina Nissen, project leader. Martina Pedersen, coordinator. Wiebke Engles, architect. Jonas Danborg, construction manager. Maria Viva, project manager. Kari-Ann Petersen, Jan Antonsen, Ulrich Bussemas, Rikke Winding and Philip Douglas

Labourers: Local craftsmen and labourers Published material: MECC Team, Jonas Danborg

January 12th 2013

January 25th 2013

Read a book of Mark Jenkins’ today and discovered this quote: “Adventure is a path. Real adventure — self-determined, self-motivated, often risky — forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind — and perhaps realise that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.”

I have visited the District Engineer, who is responsible of registering every construction in the district I now live and will be building in. I hoped he could give me good advice as to where I could find qualified labour, and see if he could be helpful with solving challenges I might meet underway — or rather those problems I MOST DEFINITELY will meet. It was a Muslim holiday, which means everybody takes the day off, also non-muslims, so he wasn’t there. It is apparently normal that one is unsuccessful meeting people. With or without pre-made arrangement. Our building permission is underway and can hopefully be signed next week, so the construction can take off officially. Before then I have to find labour, suppliers, and make work and time schedules. It will be a busy period, but I am very excited to get started. 0









64 — 63











2. UPDATE January 12th 2013, Roaming Mind, Facebook Diary, Jonas Danborg

3. UPDATE January 25th 2013, Roaming Mind, Facebook diary, Jonas Danborg

4. PLAN A: Classroom B: Office C: IT service room D: Internet café / multipurpose space E: Disability ramp F: Hallway and work area G: Entrance / porch H: Storage space I: Courtyard


5. SPATIAL ORGANISATION The entrance from the library’s courtyard leads to an alwaysaccessible porch, and then to the busy internet café, The hallway is open to the street and offers a furnished study area, making the use of the building a part of its expression.

February 6th 2013

February 22nd 2013

Met with members of the District Council and assistant chairman to clarify the situation regarding the land survey. Paramount Chief refuses to sign before anyone else has signed. District Council won’t sign either before the very end.

Today, we could finally begin casting the many pad foundations. I got two local concrete workers to stand for the mixture of concrete. It took place on the bare ground and the mixing ratio was crazy! They use eight bins gravel for one bag of cement. So I asked what size bucket it should be — it did not matter! What if it’s a big bucket one time and a small bucket the next? They didn’t understand my question and concern! They just looked at the colour and texture of the mix to calculate if the result was going to be fine. I too thought that it might be fine, but I continued myself with the good oldfashioned 1:3 as I learned when I was an apprentice.


7. Theme II — Case IV — Magburaka Education and Computer Centre


6. UPDATE February 6th 2013, Roaming Mind, Facebook Diary, Jonas Danborg.


7. UPDATE February 22nd, 2013, Roaming Mind, Facebook Diary, Jonas Danborg.

8. BRIEFING Jonas Danborg briefing foreman Abdul Kargbor on the daily work on the construction site. As construction manager, Jonas directs and motivates the staff, plans and organises the workload, purchases materials, takes care of logistics and keeps track of the budget.

9. LOCAL MATERIALS Local materials and techniques are prioritised to keep costs and the CO² footprint down, but also to ensure that the maintenance of the building is possible, using the same materials, after ASF-DK have left the construction site.

66 — 65

February 21st 2013 Today has been one of the tough days. We started off great with preparing a place to mix concrete, but when I looked at all the casting boxes, I discovered that they were not the right measurements. They were all 80 cm, and I told my labourers to make them 90 cm. The wrong measurements mean that the foundation could be in danger of collapse. This meant that we were six men who were unable to get started. When I discovered that all the lattices were 10 cm too low, I snapped. It’s like the labourers do not understand that accuracy is important for a good result. They suggested to remake all the casting boxes but demanded to be paid for the extra work. I told them that I have paid for them once and that was enough. Then suddenly the metal worker refused to work for the salary we had agreed on. All of this resulted in me losing all my patience with them and I closed down the construction site and sent them home with the message that if they would not do a good job, then they should not come again. The two owners of the construction firm appeared less than five minutes after and apologised for their labourer’s behaviour. I insisted on keeping two of the worst labourers away from the construction site, since their attitude was wrong and destroyed the atmosphere on site. When the rest of the labourers discovered that “Oporto” (the boss red.) could be tough, they all adapted and the construction continued.




10. UPDATE February 21st 2013, Roaming Mind, Facebook diary, Jonas Danborg.

11. PAD FOUNDATION To cool the building, it is elevated up from the ground, allowing the air to enter under the building, and preventing the ground from heating the floor. The pad foundation also minimises the amount of concrete used and the construction costs.

12. MECC TODAY Today REACT runs MECC in a rented location. The new centre will be larger and make it possible to expand and provide internet access and education for more people.

May 9th 2013


I have seen here in Sierra Leone how people with absolutely nothing are happy and smiling, welcoming and hospitable. There is a mood in the street that you will not see in Denmark. Everywhere people greet each other, they take part in each other’s lives and they appear at each other’s doorsteps when they want to see each other. People start conversations with me in the middle of the street or if 1m 2,5 m I am sitting and relaxing on a doorstep. I have recently been reminded how cold Danes can seem to each other. 13.

Theme II — Case IV — Magburaka Education and Computer Centre

14.–15. 1m

2,5 m



2,5 m



13. UPDATE May 9th 2013, Roaming Mind, Facebook diary, Jonas Danborg.


14. ELEVATION The facade is made up of wooden lamellas, metal grids and mosquito net. There are no windows, but the gaps let light and air pass into the building. The gaps make the building appear closed during daytime, and transparent in the evening, when it is in use.

15. COOLING The roof is one big sloped surface, 11 x 25 m. It provides a large area for solar panels and directs rain water to one side for easy collection. The pitch of the roof helps the hot air inside the building to rise up and out.

16. SECTION The facade’s openness creates a welcoming building, despite three levels of security measures. A wall around the compound, limited access through the gates and solid boxes with cupboards in which the computers can be locked up.

January 26th 2013

May 30th 2013

A fantastic day on the construction site!!!!! (...) The 10 brick layers have done a really good piece of work the past two days, and today surpasses all expectations. They worked from 8:15 and left 18:30. I was really happy and close to euphoric about the past days’ progress, it gives me a renewed hope for the amount of work we can complete before the rainy season begins. By all accounts the rain should set in for real in June, often with rain many days in succession, so I am busy!

The Paramount Chief visited us on the site today. He came last week, because he heard, we started building and then again today to see what had happened. I feared he would be difficult, since we don’t have our permits yet, but he turned out to be very understanding and optimistic about the whole thing. He did mention three times though, that we should pay him money, but I shrugged it off with a joke and told him I wouldn’t have money to build any further. 18.

68 — 67




17. UPDATE February 26th 2013, Roaming Mind, Facebook diary, Jonas Danborg.

18. UPDATE May 30th 2013, Roaming Mind, Facebook diary, Jonas Danborg.

19. Curing blocks Local earth is put in the press with cement to produce blocks for the walls. It is possible for two–three labourers to produce 300–400 earth blocks a day. The dark blocks are straight out of the press, while lighter blocks have dried for a few days.

20. Earth block press The press is imported from Kenya. It improves the building process considerably. The future plan for the machine is to rent it out to other construction sites accompanied by craftsmen educated in its use to generate an income for the workers.

June 10th 2013


I have started assembling the trussbeams but have reached the conclusion that the solutions we planned back home are not strong enough for the long spans. More than ever, I am certainly in deep water now. As I said, carpentry is not my strength, so it is discouraging to realise the choices one made aren’t sufficient. Down here the problem is, nobody really knows how to solve this, so right now I am pretty much on my own with the problems. I spent all of Sunday designing several solutions, so I can make a fresh start this week with renewed energy (...)

Inspect the site. Find out what material you want to use. Get safety equipment such as helmets and lights. Bring tools with you. It is difficult to find in Sierra Leone. Get locks to keep the materials and tools in a safe place. Get a foreman to help you to get materials and ease the communication with the workers. Have patience!


Get the right people with local contacts. Do not use technical scale drawings. Draw, explain and show pictures, so the workers know exactly what to do.

Theme II — Case IV — Magburaka Education and Computer Centre

Assembling of columns, trusses, roofing underlay and roof are the parts I lack of the main construction. It should not take much more than a month, but everything down here takes an enormously long time and every day time flies by. I am leaving for home soon and by then, there should preferably be a little more of the house, than there is right now.

Do not ask what is nice, but what works. Aesthetics does not exist. Ask simple, practical questions and assign specific tasks. Things must be simple, easy and fast. 22.


21. UPDATE June 10th 2013, Roaming Mind, Facebook Diary, Jonas Danborg.

22. ADVICE ON BUILDING IN SIERRA LEONE Abdul Kargbor, foreman. Jonas Danborg, construction manager.

23. WALLS FINISHED Building commenced in February 2013, at a standstill because of the rainy season in Autumn 2013, and awaiting a new construction manager to arrive from Denmark. Construction is expected to be finished by mid-2014.


24. VISUALISATION A collage showing how MECC will look like once it is finished in 2014.

You buy a plane ticket, try to prepare yourself as well as possible for the upcoming task and set off. Twenty-four hours later you arrive in the city of Magburaka in Sierra Leone’s north province. You look around and think What do I do now? Manager on Foreign Soil by Steen Andersen

70 — 69

The construction architect Jonas Danborg left for Magburaka in February 2013 to start the building project of Magburaka Education and Computer Centre (MECC). It was agreed upon beforehand which plot the centre should be built on. With the drawings under his arm, the first step was to organise and find craftsmen and materials. Good relations, Clear Communication and Pragmatic Tactics Before any project can commence, there is much planning and preparation. Challenges only become harder to face when you are a foreign project manager, on foreign soil. Special attention must always be paid to cultural conditions. In Magburaka there are no building supply stores where you can source materials, no job centres, which can provide employees, only a handful of small scale building contractors, and no one to call for ordering tools or machines for quick delivery. Jonas Danborg started by investigating how other building projects were carried out in the city and by mapping the building contractors in the area. In Sierra Leone, craftsmanship is often passed on informally through the generations and the quality of the work usually includes the need of rather high tolerances and is almost the same no matter who is carrying out the job. For that reason, Jonas Danborg planned to fetch some of the craftsmen which Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark (ASF-DK) architects had used on the hospital staff houses in Masanga, situated approximately thirty minutes’ drive from Magburaka. “In Masanga the craftsmen have over time carried out quite a bit of work for the architects from ASF-DK, so they know how to work with a foreign construction manager and have learned a lot of skills such as proper timber jointing. I enquired, however, first with the people who make the

decisions in Magburaka and they recommended not using craftsmen from Masanga as this would cause conflict in the town. It had to be the local craftsmen from Magburaka who were to carry out the project to ensure the money was staying in the town and also to create a mutual community spirit around the project. To involve the local community and the different stakeholders turned out to be a major part of the project” (Danborg) Subsequently he spoke to the librarian at the library which owns the land, MECC was to be built on. The librarian recommended a carpenter and a brick layer who had started a construction company, whom Jonas Danborg then contacted. “We spoke about how they usually build houses, and they could hardly understand our drawings due to the different building methods we use. Our plan was to build on concrete piers with a timber construction and a core of bricks. They had never tried this before. I realised that I would have to guide them no matter what, so there was no reason to pay them to do it.” (Danborg) He was therefore not interested in hiring the company, but made a deal to hire their craftsmen and rent their tools. He employed a foreman as the link between himself and the craftsmen. The choice fell on Abdul Kargbor, a younger brick layer educated at the local technical school, who approached Jonas Danborg himself and showed great interest in the project. He was dedicated, thorough and had ambitions about starting his own contracting company as well as training to become an engineer. “My job at the MECC-project is to talk to the workers, tell them what they should do. Help with the language and the different culture, and make sure they do their job properly. Jonas is the boss, but if he wants to do something that is no good, I will try to tell him why. Sometimes he also asks me how things should be done.” (Kargbor) Besides ensuring good communication between the project manager and the craftsmen, Abdul Karg-

Knowledge Sharing and Education in Practice One of the aims of ASF-DK is that local workers can use the experience from the building projects to develop new working methods and, over time, solve their own challenges. Besides craftsmanship, it is also about project management, planning and the sharing of knowledge and experience. “In the beginning, the craftsmen reacted best to a top-down management style, but I prefer to work alongside the builders exchanging hands-on knowledge and benefiting from mutual encouragement. It is important the builders feel a sense of ownership of the project, but often people are reluctant to make decisions and seem to want to be told what to do” (Danborg) One way of sharing knowledge while at the same time motivating the craftsmen is to introduce, for example, a new building method which can make a process easier and more efficient. In Sierra Leone, bricks are normally of a kind called “mud-bricks.” To make them, one fills metal moulds with sand,

water and cement and lets the mixture dry. Two hard-working people can produce 200 bricks a day using approximately one bag of cement per 16 bricks and it is expensive and wearying work. Therefore Jonas Danborg decided to import a earth brick producing machine from Kenya. With this equipment, three people can produce 300–400 bricks per day at a moderate pace, using one bag of cement per 100 bricks. Moreover, soil from the building plot can be used instead of sand from the river or beach, which contributes to destructive sand mining. In other words, using the brick producing machine was better in every way. It had a financial incentive, secured improved working conditions, was more efficient and provided a more consistent result. “There is a blacksmith close to Freetown who produces a machine which is close to this one but more primitive. With a little education and improved craftsmanship, they might be able to produce their own machines so they don’t need to import them from Kenya. And that will make the equipment even cheaper.” (Danborg) Jonas Danborg believes that there is some way to go before ASF-DK’s goals can be reached in terms of educating the local people to build similar buildings on their own. The way ASF-DK approach building are, in spite of the context, bound in Danish methods. These require a structural overall thinking and shared responsibility, such as planning, budget making and a horizontal organisational structure. This come natural to most Danes, but can not be expected to be be easily adapted by a Sierra Leonean, whose cultural context relies on other customs. However, the hands-on experience and final building might inspire to experiment with the knowledge gained and make some of the workers carry out similar projects some day. The experience Jonas Danborg has gained from being a construction manager in a foreign culture has strengthened his organisational skills as well as his abilities to manage craftsmen on a building site, motivate workers and teach them new skills in chaotic situations.

Theme II — Case IV — Article

bor was to assist in sourcing materials — a big task with many unknowns. “Where should I get cement and sand to make concrete? Where should I get bricks? Was it possible to get timber in the amount I needed? Who to talk to to get the right brackets? Over time I realised that I could buy timber from this or that carpenter. I asked everybody I met where I could source the materials I needed. You have to knock on doors and say, I can see you have timber in the front yard, is it yours? Do you want to sell? It is really hard work and demands patience.” (Danborg) He thought Abdul Kargbor could manage the purchase of materials, partly to avoid white prices and to utilise his local knowledge. He showed him the drawings and explained that they needed cement and sand to produce concrete, and that the craftsmen should start preparing concrete formwork which had to be dug into the ground. Abdul Kargbor came back after a while, asking not to be sent to town to shop. The pressure from family and friends was too much, particularly if they knew that he was carrying money to buy materials. Sometimes he even had to pay more when he shopped for himself because people knew he worked as Foreman for MECC and therefore believed he earned a lot of money, more money than the others. The solution was that Kargbor would ask for quotes on materials and Danborg went to pay for them.

Projects by Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark may give us a valuable insight into the nature of building projects and the practice of management. Clearly, we have things to teach abroad, but we also have things to learn about building projects here in Denmark. Teaching as a Learning Opportunity

72 — 71

by Kristian Kreiner, Professor, Copenhagen Business School

We travel to less developed countries intending to teach the people there what we know, tricks of the trade and often also our way of life. In many ways, these are honourable endeavours. They are carried out voluntarily on a wave of idealism and are, as such, not asking for reciprocation. However, every teaching experience is also a learning experience. As a supplement to the individual growth we experience when exposed to a foreign culture, in teaching Sierra Leone alternative ways to build houses we may also learn fundamental and important lessons about our own ways of building. How is it possible for the efficient and professional Danish construction industry to learn anything from the construction of a simple structure with limited resources, far away from Denmark? Before we reject the idea, let us consider that, as a matter of socialisation, we may have learnt to see reality in a particular manner, thereby tacitly neglecting or silencing many practices on which the successful accomplishment of construction tasks depends. The exposure to radically different realities abroad may offer an opportunity for rediscovering some of these forgotten or silenced aspects of construction work, since the usual way of practicing is suddenly not an option. I have used the Facebook diary Roaming Mind of Jonas Danborg, a construction manager at Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark (ASF-DK), which recounts the building project Magburaka Education and Computer Centre (MECC) in Sierra Leone, to extract a few learning points for Danish building projects. Professionally, we may learn most from being reminded of the following two points, namely — improvisation is important and the impact of management is ambiguous.

The Importance of Improvisation The diary describes multiple occasions when the project manager has to rethink the project because conditions turn out to be different, materials resist planned uses, workers don’t do what they are supposed to do, tools fail etc. Consider the following description: “I have started assembling the truss-beams but have reached the conclusion that the solutions we planned back home are not strong enough for the long spans. More than ever, I am certainly in deep water now.” (June 10th 2013) In Sierra Leone, planned solutions often will not work because the actual problems and conditions are different from the expected ones. When that is the case, new solutions will have to be improvised. Such solutions may burden the budget and delay the process. But under the unusual conditions in Sierra Leone, it is obvious that improvisations are necessary and valuable for the fulfilment of the project. In a Danish context, improvisations are believed to be superfluous and even dangerous. If adverse conditions are experienced, it is assumed that the planning must have been poor. If people act unexpectedly, the management must have failed. If solutions prove inefficient, the design must have been flawed. In Denmark, we assume that a project can be rationally designed and planned. Therefore, we tend to see improvisation as a symbol of human weakness and organisational disorder. Here we might claim to have found the premise on which project management in Sierra Leone and in Denmark differ. On the contrary, my point is that we have found an element that is fundamental to all building processes, but which is treated very differently in the two settings. For a Danish construction manager in Sierra Leone, having to improvise new

The Ambiguous Effects of Management The role of the manager is also a recurrent theme in the construction manager’s diary. The following account may hold an important lesson for project management in general: “To see the five guys collaborating is a joy. When we started they were hesitant, didn’t really communicate with each other and everything moved more slowly … Now they collaborate on a higher level and much more efficiently. I have decided to withdraw a little and let them call the shots themselves. I enjoy trying to figure out their communication and watching their work patterns evolve. When I intervene, their way of thinking changes and they hand back the reins to me. Then I have to give orders: “Give me the bucket!”, “get me the spirit level!”, “move over a little!” But when I withdraw a little, everything flows better. They are not afraid of making decisions even if inhabitants in this country notoriously are unwilling to take responsibility and make decisions.” (March 4th 2013) The narrative tells us how management can have ambiguous effects. On the one hand, management directs, provides contexts for work, and enables collective work to be accomplished. On the other hand, managers risk making project members less produc-

tive by making them dependent. The project manager’s experience tells us that less management may actually be better than more management. Such a lesson is controversial, yet probably also true in a Danish context. It is controversial because we are committed to the idea that the alternative to formal organisation and management is chaos and lack of functionality. Now we realise that the alternative may actually be self-organisation and self-management. Order may not always have to be imposed from above but may grow and evolve from below as an integral part of the collective effort. If that is true under meager circumstances in Sierra Leone, why might it not also be true under munificent (knowledge- and skill-wise) circumstances in Denmark? If improvisation is an integral part of construction, to some extent self-management must also play an indispensable role. To be sure, lack of management will not guarantee order and functionality, but shrewd ways of managing, including strategic withdrawal, may draw benefits from both formal management and self-management. Unexpected Lessons A building project in Sierra Leone has given us the opportunity to talk about the need for improvisation and the productivity of self-organisation in construction. Claiming that the challenges of project management are different in Denmark, we have systematically forgotten or repressed such insights. But the challenges differ more in appearance than in essence. Whether we like it or not, improvisation is a fundamental aspect of modern building projects, the way people’s capacity for self-organising is a great resource which we neglect, to our own detriment. It is understandable that improvisation is mistrusted, since the implied trials and judgments could be the source of serious mistakes. It is also understandable that self-organisation is mistrusted because it represents a loss of central control. It is perhaps less understandable that such mistrust leads us to systematically disown improvisation and self-organisation since, if managed shrewdly, both practices may contribute significantly to the success of building projects. What it means to manage shrewdly is beyond the scope of this essay. But a small project in Sierra Leone gives us the hint that it may all start with a positive appreciation of improvisation and self-organisation. Our institutionalised distrust of such practices may not recede, but facilitating these practices may nonetheless illustrate the type of paradoxical strategy that complex and uncertain realities demand.

Theme II — Essay

solutions constitutes a formative learning experience, In Denmark, similar experiences are systematically tabooed and disowned, because they are considered signs of inefficient planning. However, improvisation is inevitable also in Denmark, since building projects are always confronted with problems. These problems are challenging because we seek solutions before we have had a chance to understand their nature and complexity. Such understanding emerges gradually, as an outcome of working on the solutions. In practice, new concerns, new constraints, and new meaning are constantly being discovered. We keep discovering more things we need to do in order for the planned activities to work efficiently. Neither the design work nor the physical work on the construction site can be planned fully and rationally, because the process contains an element of trial-and-error. We improvise new trials and if they seem to work, we continue down that lane until we meet new obstacles that require further improvised trials. Even the simplest task on a Danish construction site involves ten times more processes than the ones actually and formally planned. Therefore, improvisation is as inevitable as it is despised in modern Denmark.

Theme III


More then merely an eye-catcher? In modern society, iconic buildings are typically associated with urbanisation, ambitions of economic growth and the commercialisation of architecture. However, in a social context an iconic building can serve a community or promote a process of change in ways that reach beyond the building’s physical form. As a space, such a building can accommodate and introduce a range of opportunities. As an interesting and beautiful object, it attracts attention. As a symbol of status, it commands respect and embodies power. As an eye-opener it shows, rather than tells, the stories of its users. When its architectural expression supports a sincere agenda in favour of the community, an iconic building has the potential of becoming an agent of social change. This is the power of architecture.


Hastings Bio Learning Centre


76 — 75




5 km N

5 km

LOCATION The Bio Learning Centre is located in Sussex on the main road, Peninsular Road, approx. 15 km outside Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. According to Googlemaps, it is a 45-minute journey by car. In real time, it takes anything from one to four hours, depending on the means of transport and time of day.

The western part of Sierra Leone is the wealthiest and most populated region in the country. It is the financial and cultural centre, and is home to the country’s national government.

Facts on Freetown Peninsula Location: Western Area District Main city: Freetown Population: approx. 1,450,000 Area: 557 km² Main industries: Trade, services, finances and landscaping.

Natural resources (Sierra Leone): Diamonds, titanium ore, bauxite, iron ore, gold and chromite. Percentage of population living in rural areas (Sierra Leone): approx. 62% Population with access to safe drinking water (Sierra Leone): 57%

Environment and politics The Environmental Foundation for Africa (EFA) believes that cooperation, communication and awareness are necessary to protect the environment and thereby also improve the living standard of the people of West Africa. They argue that in the future, if countries like Sierra Leone are to have a strong economy and a stable political situation, it is fundamental to integrate the sustainable management of natural resources into all sectors of society, including government agencies, public institutions and private businesses. The EFA believes that in order to truly protect the environment, the causes of environmental degradation must be examined and confronted at a regional level. Working regionally is best suited for implementing the appropriate political and economic policies, so as to keep the wealth of natural resources within West Africa, and to ensure that it is the local people who profit from the sustainable use of the land. There is a need to establish local platforms where different parties can meet to

exchange ideas, discuss opportunities and challenges, and explore practical solutions for the sustainable management of natural resources. The Bio Learning Centre in Sussex, outside Freetown, will be the focal point for this initiative. The plan is that the centre should function as a symbol of a new way of thinking about the environment in Sierra Leone and West Africa. It is therefore imperative to construct a spectacular building, which will attract enough attention to make the site a recognised symbol of a better future. The Environmental Foundation for Africa (EFA) The EFA is a non-profit organisation founded in 1992 as a response to the growing problems which stem from the single paradox that Sierra Leone is immensely rich in natural resources, yet the majority of its people are extremely poor. These resources have been historically mismanaged, and this mismanagement has often led to conflict. After a few years of successful implementation of its initial projects in Sierra Leone, as well as constructive engagement with the local communities and authorities, all activities stopped in 1997 when the rebel forces stormed Freetown and took control of the capital and the government. The EFA and many other organisations relocated to Liberia where the organisation continued its work on the rehabilitation and preservation of the environment. Today the EFA is active in both Sierra Leone and Liberia. The organisation now specialises in raising awareness about environmental issues, providing relevant, progressive communication tools and training programs at national, regional and international levels. One of the biggest tasks for the EFA is communicating with macroeconomic forces that affect the environment and the management of natural resources.

Theme III — Case V — Context

ICONIC BUILDING FOR ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS Uncontrolled logging, deforestation, overfishing and hunting, as well as gold, diamond and sand mining are increasing the pressure on Sierra Leone’s natural environment. In addition to this, inefficient handling of waste and wastewater, lack of proper land and water management, and increased energy consumption have had a devastating impact on the environment. This has caused a deterioration in quality of life for much of Sierra Leone’s population. There is a severe lack of political and private initiative to find constructive solutions to these environmental issues. With The Biodiversity and Renewable Energy Learning Centre (The Bio Learning Centre), built by Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark (ASF-DK), The Environmental Foundation for Africa (EFA) aims to foster a much needed ecological awareness and to educate the public about the challenges their country faces.

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Case V The Bio Learning Centre Rumours reveal that the building is the talk of the town — in the capital Freetown and in the countryside in Sussex, where it is being built. To excite curiosity and public interest is precisely the intention of the project, which should call attention to itself and speak of what it is, why it is there and how it will be used. The Bio Learning Centre is designed to impress and perform. The project’s initiator, The Environmental Foundation for Africa (EFA) promotes Love for Nature with the intention of creating a positive, long lasting relationship between people and nature. The centre is to be a symbol of this — by housing the environmental organisations of West Africa, being an example of sustainable building techniques, and showcasing of how the local community can benefit from protecting the environment. It will be a building which stands for social change.

Theme III — Case V — The Bio Learning Centre


1. THE BIO LEARNING CENTRE Function: Education centre Client: Environmental Foundation for Africa Type: New construction Size: 500m2 Materials: Concrete, local timber, fibre cement, polycarbonate and earth blocks. Construction time: 2011–2014

Price: 3,000,000 DKK / 543,600 USD (funded by EFA) Price pr. m²: 6,000 DKK / 1,088 USD Travel and work grants: 230,000 DKK / 41,600 USD Sponsoring: 86,000 DKK / 15,500 USD Sponsors: Cembrit A/S, The Danish Arts Foundation

BLC Team: Camilla Kragh (DK), architect and construction manager. Patrick Kogler (AUT), architect and construction manager. Rasmus Hamann (DK), architect and construction manager. Kym Lansell (AUS), landscape architect. Rasmus Giovanni Christensen, technical support.

Frederik Giovanni, technical support. Mahamed Yousuf Abdi, technical support. Labourers: Local craftsmen and labourers. Published material: BLC Team

Generator R Parking







Bridge G





Bridge Q M D

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2.–4. N 0

2. LANDSCAPE The landscape is a manifestation of the educational material distributed by the centre. It aims to inspire visitors by exhibiting the natural beauty of the region, showing ways in which people can simultaneously protect and benefit from this nature.

3. PROGRAM The north areas are exhibition gardens, including a medicinal garden and a botanical garden featuring native plant species of the region. The south area is the ‘working landscape’ with a seedling nursery, forest farm, slow food vegetable garden and composting area.

4. LANDSCAPE PLAN A. Water channel B. Earth block production C. Mulch and compost pile D. Plant nursery E. Seedling nursery F. Rainwater Tanks G. Playground H. Slow food vegetable exhibit I. Septic tanks J. Dry composting toilets

10 m 10m

K. Spring water tank L. Bio filtration garden M. Springwater trench N. Swales O. Fruit orchard P. Solar panel house Q. Raised garden R. Outdoor learning terrace S. Well T. Forest farm


7. Theme III — Case V — The Bio Learning Centre

Berm Swale 400cm



5. RAMPS The Learning Path weaves through the landscape, connecting the different gardens together as well as providing universal access to some levels of the building. The water channels provide points of interest in the landscape as well an aquatic habitat for plants.

6. FOREST FARM The centre exhibits best practice organic farming methods including layering of edible plant species. This layering mimics the natural layers found in forest ecosystems, thus reducing labour, water use and additional nutrient requirements.


7. SLOPING BUILDING The building greets its visitors at the main road and leads them up through the inner street, ascending the hill. It exploits the natural slope to create an auditorium as an amphitheatre at its heart. From the top, there is an outstanding view over the sea.

8. SWALES Terraced areas have been created using local stone with swales constructed to slow surface water flows, particularly suitable for the heavy rain in the rain season. Swales redirect water to replenish ground water supplies, as well as minimising surface soil erosion.











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9. BUILDING CONCEPT Principles of sustainability, the use of local materials and a public, socially minded spatial organisation are key factors in the design, along with a focus on openness, accessibility and the sharing of knowledge about the environment.

10. SPATIAL ORGANISATION A. Terrace B. Reception / offices C. Shop D. Multi-purpose hall E. Library F. Video Lab G. Toilets H. Kitchen I. Drinking water tank J. Meeting space K. Open exhibition spaces L. Access ramps

11. MATERIALS M. Concrete pad foundations N. Local timber O. Polycarbonate P. Fibre cement roofing plates Q. Aluminium windows R. Ramps made from iron rods

12. SUSTAINABLE DESIGN Large roof for providing shade, collecting rainwater. Natural ventilation under, through and across the building. Connected visually and directly to surrounding nature. Translucent walls let the daylight through and minimise the need for electricity. Inner walls of timber for its low thermal mass.


Theme III — Case V — The Bio Learning Centre


13. ORIENTATION The long facades are directed towards north and south, so the hottest sun is mostly overhead, blocked by the roof. The house catches the sea breeze from the west and takes it upwards through the interior.

14. MAIN FUNCTIONS The multi-purpose auditorium, is the heart of the centre. It is surrounded by the offices for EFA-staff and learning facilities. The outdoor Learning Path extends from the ground level to the top of the terrain, showcasing sustainable practices.

15. A NEW PUBLIC SPACE The building will be open for the public during the centre’s opening hours. The new public space can be used by the local community, which in turn will expose them to the activities of the EFA.

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16. CONSTRUCTION DRAWINGS The model is a dynamic communication tool between the architects and the craftsmen. The craftsmen became part of the model, in position with their tasks visualised.


17. DIGITAL TOOLS Architect Patrick Kogler shows the craftsmen the building in 3D. Rather than handing out 2D-drawings, the 3D-model was used to develop an understanding of the architectural intentions and the desired result.

18. STORY BOARD The diagrammatic, cartoonish drawings on the board act as both detail drawings and representations of ideas. The visual language helps the team to get the same vision, as many of the ideas and techniques are unknown to the craftsmen.

19. PERCEPTION A plan or drawing portrays a future thing that does not yet exist. A plan remains abstract for most non-architects as it depicts a prospective event. When getting through the present is difficult, the future can seem inconceivably distant.



Advice for Doing Large Scale Projects As a foreign volunteer, you need to be flexible enough to cope with our culture, and the scarce resources of Sierra Leone.

Establish realistic expectations of costs and resources at the beginning of the project. New ideas always cost money, sometimes more money than is in the budget. The projects that will succeed are those that are attractive to sponsors, easy to support and that respond to the immediate needs of people in Sierra Leone. The success of the project’s ideas depends on how it is carried out and how we use and maintain the building in the future. I hope ASF-DK will continue their engagement, as the building will be very costly to maintain. 23.


20. SIGNAGE A figurative representation of the building by a local artist, which explains it in a way that makes sense to the locals and passersby.

21. COMPETITION The ongoing issue of moving between the imperial and metric systems of measurement, was solved with a race. The competition among the craftsmen improved precision, and allowed the craftsmen to measure out a truss, such that they could reproduce it independently later on.

22. THE TEAM Group shot of architects, craftsmen and EFA personnel. “Collaborating is challenging and often difficult. Many times we have been angry and frustrated, but we had to find a way to get around.” (Kogler)

23. Advice for doing large scale projects Ibrahim Sanah, Foreman, The Bio Learning Centre.

Theme III — Case V — The Bio Learning Centre

Make sure you have plenty of time to spend on the building site. It is really difficult to convince others of your intentions without being present most of the time.


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24. A BANK OR A GRAVEYARD? Curious passersby often stopped to ask what the foundations would become.

25. PILLARS The pad foundation is gentle on the site. The use of concrete, and thereby the CO2 emissions and the devastating sand mining, is kept to a minimum, while the lifted floor allows air to sweep under and cool the building from below.

26. BEING THERE It took three attempts to get the foundation right. A local engineer was employed for the job. Even so, parts of the foundation were 1.5 metres higher than intended, while hundreds of bags of cement disappeared. A lesson in the importance of being present.

27. SCALE It is the largest structure built by ASF-DK to date with 50–60 employees involved over a three-year construction period. The budget was already overrun at the time the foundation was raised. Inflation and incidental expenses were not included in the first budget.


Theme III — Case V — The Bio Learning Centre


28. CONSTRUCTING THE ROOF The roof plates are assembled and mounted by hand. The roof plates were produced and sponsored by a Danish company.

29. A VISIBLE ROOF The large roof is one of the iconic and sustainable design principles. The size and the twisted shape characterise the building and attract attention from far and wide. Rumours reveal that many people in Freetown know the building by now.

30. A SUSTAINABLE ROOF The roof’s form and its large overhang are designed to give maximum shade and keep the building cool. The surface can collect enough rain water to fill a 35,000-litre tank, providing drinking water for the centre and the local schools for most of the year.

31. INTERIOR The trusses form a beautiful ceiling and create sculptural indoor space. They are all individually shaped and together they emphasise the dynamic central axis.

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32. BOXES Small structures with their own roof, built independently from the main structure. This solution meets future demands for adaptability. Some of the boxes have accessible spaces on top. The double roof ventilates the rooms naturally.

33. AUDITORIUM The indoor terracing in the amphitheatre has seating for 150 persons. This flexible space can be used for workshops, exhibitions, conferences, theatre etc. but is also open to the community for public use and is directly connected to the garden.

Theme III — Case V — The Bio Learning Centre



34. FACADE The translucent polycarbonate allows daylight to enter the offices, thereby minimising the need for artificial light. In the evening, lit from behind, the people using the spaces and their shadows become a part of the facade.

35. WINDOWS The windows are placed following the slope. For the inside, this provides natural ventilation to the different levels. It also gives varying views of the outside, from the garden to the trees and the sky.

When approaching Freetown from the main road, one sees an unusual building positioned on the mountain slope. The Bio Learning Centre is the future rallying ground for the environmental organisations of West Africa, a symbol of their agenda and an example of sustainability in practice. Waiting for the President by Steen Andersen

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“The environmental problems in Sierra Leone are so extensive that you need to create something substantial to attract the public eye, and to get a discussion going about the challenges. That’s the idea behind the creation of the Bio Learning Centre. We’ve tried not to disturb the local landscape, so the building has been lifted above the ground on concrete pillars. In principle we could un-screw the whole building and remove the pillars, fill up the holes, plant trees and you wouldn’t know that it ever existed.” – Tommy Garnett, Director, The Environmental Foundation for Africa. The project has been underway for more than ten years. The Bio Learning Centre is supposed to draw attention to the work of the environmental organisations throughout West Africa. For decades now they have struggled for their cause. As their agendas include forest conservation, waste management, prevention of sand mining and promoting sustainable methods for construction, they tend to conflict with the often short-term objectives of the industry and the immediate needs of much of the population — such as putting food on the table. The initiative to build The Bio Learning Centre, short for the Biodiversity and Renewable Energy Learning Centre, was taken by the Environmental Foundation for Africa (EFA). The foundation raised most of the necessary funds internationally, as funding for environmental projects is not easily found within Sierra Leone. EFA was founded in 1992 by its director Tommy Garnett. After watching Trade Slaves an episode of the BBC series Inside Story in 1991, he realised that the problems plaguing Sierra Leone were deeply rooted in the decay and neglect of nature. EFA works to protect and reinstate a sustainable environment in West Africa. Indirectly, they aim at

improving the living standards of the population by making the natural resources available. However, this is no easy task. “The main purpose of the Bio Learning Centre is to make nature attractive to people so that they understand the value of protecting it. The building stretches from the dusty road up to the beautiful forest. In a few years this will be the only forest in this area because of the way things are developing. In their daily lives, people worry about getting from A to B, paying for basic necessities, and taking care of their families. For the majority of the population, conservation, sustainability and nature are among the least of their concerns.” (Garnett) Architecture as an Icon A couple of architectural firms in Freetown came up with proposals for EFA’s project, but they did not fulfil the needs and vision of the organisation. Via a project in Masanga, one of the engineers from EFA got in contact with Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark (ASF-DK). “Our project is rooted in the spirit of doing better, and the architects we met from Denmark seemed to have that kind of spirit and a belief in the same values. So they agreed to provide a team of like-minded architects. The process, starting from when we met to the time we started to build, lasted two years.” (Garnett) Camilla Kragh, who was part of the team behind Brown House (Case I), joined the group of architects at the Bio Learning Centre. The project was much more extensive than and had an agenda reaching far beyond the building itself. “It’s the first time I’ve been part of a project that seems to extend far beyond the actual building project, and that has the potential to make a considerable difference. EFA intend to invite the president for the inauguration.

Preparing for the Future — and the President By use of video, interactive learning and the like, the Bio Learning Centre seeks to communicate the huge environmental challenges facing West Africa, and to bring attention to solutions such as the use of biogas, solar power, recycling, rainwater harvesting, water filtration, composting toilets, the use of plants for

medicine etc. The target groups include schools, the local community, NGOs and private companies. “Guests will get the opportunity to try all of the techniques in praxis. When you come here it’s about learning, not just reading, but engaging practically on every level. People talk about solar water management and using solar power for pumping water, so we will install a solar pump by the building and a rainwater tank at the top of the hill, as a showcase to demonstrate this method. We want to make the centre a place where all of the issues discussed at a national level concerning sustainability are exemplified.” (Garnett) In time, the centre should be self-sufficient and make enough profit to pay salaries, buy new equipment, maintain the buildings and provide a certain standard of services. People should be motivated to use the centre, and the centre should provide the necessary materials and internet access, have a functioning library with access to online databases, make publications and hold lectures and workshops. “The centre should become a melting pot for all the various organisations, personalities and companies involved in sustainability in the broadest sense. We would like to make it a regional centre, because we have connections not only nationally but also regionally. So that our partners in the region can come here and demonstrate what they’re doing and share their knowledge and experience.” (Garnett) The centre will in particular focus on teaching youth about sustainability, which is consistent with the fact that 65% of the population of Sierra Leone is younger than 35 years of age. “I believe that this centre will change the attitude towards the environment of thousands, maybe even millions of people in the years to come. When you congregate the children, it makes it easier to attract the adults. When they’ve been here once, hopefully they’ll be really excited and want to come back. The school children are the decision makers of tomorrow.” (Garnett) For the near future, though, the ambition is to have the President participating in the inauguration. “The President and his Ministers will definitely come. We will be sending the invitations, but first, we need to decide on the program, clean up the centre and get the final things in order. We cannot wait until everything is completely finished, we have to do it now when the time is right.” (Garnett)

Theme III — Case V — Article

Several ministries have been involved in the project, and one has provided financial support. It will be really interesting to see what will happen after the centre opens.” (Kragh) The Bio Learning Centre should be welcoming and well connected to the surroundings, and at the same time demonstrate how a building can be adjusted to the climate — and even profit from it. “Integrating the landscape has been essential, the fact that the house climbs up the mountain slope creates a natural amphitheatre inside. The construction is radically different from the other buildings in Sierra Leone, which tend to be extremely closed off. The centre, on the other hand, is open, it profits from natural ventilation and takes the path of the sun into account. The majority of new houses are built without considering these issues, problems with the heat are solved with air-conditioning and the natural processes of cooling are not utilised.” (Kragh) The building itself is remarkable. It is the hope that the centre’s users will treasure and take care of it, but besides stimulating the curiosity of people and designing after the climatic conditions, the project sets out to demonstrate the potentials for sustainable solutions in the future. “The ideas are catalysed by thoughts on sustainable building techniques, and the house appears like this as a result of the principles of sustainability, not tradition. The roof provides the house with shadow and serves to cool the building, but it also gathers the rainwater. Teaching about the advantages of rainwater harvesting is one of the central topics at the centre. This design provides drinking water for the centre and the local schools throughout most of the year.” (Kragh) According to Tommy Garnett, the sustainable techniques hold the greatest potential for change as they show people, how they can both benefit from protecting the environment and enhance their daily lives with simple tricks and tips. “That’s why it’s important that we have designed our centre like we have, to show something else, that new ways are possible, and it’s right here in front of us.” (Garnett)

In a highly commercial era, iconic buildings are built as cathedrals of consumerism. Shopping centres and corporate headquarters are shaped with the intention of attracting buyers and to strengthen a company’s brand value. However, the power and force of iconic buildings can also, at their best, become a driving force for social development. When a Building Becomes an Icon

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by Niels Bjørn, Ph.D. in Urban Complexity and Cinematic Space, Urbanist with speciality in Social Sustainability and Filmdirector

Houses speak to us. With their appearance, form and expression, the majority of buildings instantly tell us a story about their purpose and function. They are designed to be easily decoded and understood. As long as we are familiar with the cultural context, we generally do not think much about what a building says. Without paying much attention to the buildings, we simply register what they are. It is possible we do not immediately detect whether the building contains a private IT company or a public authority — in fact, a building could have been used first as one and later for the other, but the aesthetics and idioms of the architecture are such that, without us realising, we easily perceive the building as an office building. This is how it is for most buildings. The way they are shaped and located sends signals to the outside world about what is inside, telling a clear story of identity, and helping to create orientation and clarity in the city without bringing too much attention to the architecture. They simply fit in, satisfied enough to play a role in their surroundings and be part of a bigger picture. Look at me! Then there are other types of buildings — buildings that are designed and built with the purpose of being different, to stick out, be noticed and not fit in. These can be buildings with a unique shape, an unexpected or surprising form, or buildings that express something unusual — above all, express that the building itself is worth noticing, in that it is bigger, better, crazier, or more wild, beautiful or impressive than other buildings. This is of course iconic architecture. Icon literally means image, so an iconic building is a building

that photographs well and poses in pictures in ways that make it irresistible to magazine and newspaper editors. Another definition of iconic buildings is that an iconic building is evocative, that the building as a body and as an impression conveys an idea that goes beyond the building itself and its own functions. However, it is far from all iconic buildings that meet this definition, or even have ambitions of reaching it. Successful Iconic Buildings When an iconic building is successful, it is not only able to draw attention to itself but to a lifestyle, an attitude, or a value-based position. The signals of the building need not be easily decoded but as an overall impression, the building should have a special quality, giving the impression that here is something of a particular value, oozing strength and desirability. An iconic building should be immediately recognisable. The Guggenheim museum (image page 92), with its white, cylindrical snail-shell shape, is one of the buildings that is iconic for the city of New York. With its minimalism, the architecture conveys an aesthetic and minimalist spirituality. As well as representing the city of New York, the shape and expression of the building represent a specific, aesthetic stance. It is, of course, a modernistic position that the architect Frank Lloyd Wright perfected in his design, which lends meaning to the contents of the building, and with this architectural expression, the architect places a quite specific story over the art and the art experience. With its entire weight and body, the building expresses that the artwork inside is to be taken seriously. So seriously, in fact, that it should be

worshipped as if in a modern church. The building is an architectural construction which ascribes art to a higher position. The scenario is different with the later Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain. Designed by another Frank, namely Frank Gehry, the building is of a completely different type of architecture. Despite having the same goal as the museum in New York — to shape a dramatic frame around modern art, to be noticed and to brand the Guggenheim Foundation, the museum in Bilbao tells a completely different story about what art and the art experience are. With its imposing, voluminous forms and golden scale-like surface, the museum in Bilbao is stating that art is a glittering piece of ‘bling’ with a grand entertainment value — that it is a product that can be traded and purchased.

Icon Construction as Status When iconic architecture makes sense, it is coupled with a strategy of social change, like it was in Bilbao. In the past 20 years, the city council of Madrid has used iconic architecture to generate greater value for the socially disadvantaged population. Over 200 architecture competitions have been held, all of which have focused on residential apartment buildings. The strategy of the local government has been to create partnerships between well known, foreign architects such as Morphosis, MVRDV and Foreign Office Architects (image page 92), and newly established Spanish design studios, and to motivate these partnerships to participate in competitions and the design of social housing. The challenge has been to build affordable housing, but the vision that drove the municipality has been that affordable construction can be used to produce good, beautiful and even spectacular architecture. In 2008, I was given the chance to interview Gerardo Mingo Pinacho, the creator behind the strategy. When I asked him why the city council had chosen iconic construction as a model for the social buildings, he answered: “Why should the poorest people in Madrid not live in beautiful buildings? Why should they not have housing with some special worth? They should live in buildings that they can be proud of — buildings that are unique.” Iconic Buildings as Eye-Openers While the effects of the commercial exploitation of iconic buildings exist side by side with the use of iconic buildings as a social lever, there is a growth in a third model of iconic buildings. These are structures that promote sustainable or new technological ideas, and constitute examples of new opportunities. As iconic buildings, they are created to inspire, educate and please, and to promote strong and important ideas in which others can participate. As

Theme III — Essay

The Iconic Building as Social and Economic Driving Force This particular museum is one of the most known iconic buildings in the world and has led to the concept of the Bilbao-effect. This effect talks about the power, an iconic building can have. Before the construction of the Guggenheim museum, Bilbao was a poor town in Spain with little of interest to note. However, the city council thought big. They attracted The Guggenheim Foundation and carried out the gigantic construction with the idea that a large, prestigious building might be used as a vehicle to start a process of complete revitalisation of a worn and poor area of the city. Attention and visitor count were phenomenal from the opening of the museum, and the city succeeded in harnessing the energy of this attention for economic opportunities, and to revitalise and transform the area. The Bilbao-effect is characterised by an iconic building which, with its architectural grandeur, is able to initiate urban development and a social and economic lift, but with it comes a downside. Within the past 10–15 years, following the success of Bilbao, a hyper commercial version of the use of iconic architecture has grown, in which the power of the icon alone is exploited for its economic worth. Famous architects are hired to create spectacular buildings solely as marketing tools that can draw the attention of rich clients who wish to pay for status and brand value, or to assist governments across the globe with launching city developments that will attract tourists, new businesses and investors.

The problem in such cases is that the building’s value is measured by its iconic power, and by how much attention it can produce for the company behind it, and it becomes less important whether the building is successful functionally and whether it creates useful, great, and comfortable environments for the people living or working in it. Furthermore, when many developers employ the same strategy, some of its impact is lost.

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1. Guggenheim Museum Interior view, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum by Architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The building opened on October 21, 1959, and has since been labelled one of the 20th century’s most important architectural landmarks. The cylindrical building is wider at the top than the bottom, with a ramp gallery that extends from

just under the skylight in the ceiling in a long, continuous spiral along the outer edges of the building until it reaches the ground level.

2. Bamboo Building Carabanchel Social Housing, Madrid, by Foreign Office Architects, one of the commissions in Gerardo Mingo Pinacho’s strategy for developing Madrid’s poorest areas. A simple 100-unit building organised along the north-south axis and thereby facing the harsh east-west sun for most of the day. The

architects have surrounded the units with a 1.5-metre terrace enclosed with bamboo louvres to help alleviate heat gain from the sun. Bamboo is mounted on folding frames which can be opened whenever the occupants want, creating an ever changing facade and various experiences of the daylight at the interior spaces.

buildings they are at once spectacular enough to be photographed and gain media publicity, while at the same time they have the mission of opening our eyes to new ways of thinking, living and developing our societies. One of the most recently discussed examples is again from Madrid. Here, the municipality built the structure for an environmentally sustainable urban area. With the plans of three different constructions — a residential building, a boulevard and a park — the municipality laid down the guidelines for a new neighbourhood in the southern part of Madrid. The area subsequently gained a clear and positive profile and identity for the whole area — a clear story of sustainability that private investors and developers could then benefit from when they built in the area. And for home owners and business developers, this became the urban area to live and work in, if a sustainable lifestyle was important to them.

Theme III — Essay

Three Iconic Projects in a Combined Strategy In Madrid, each of the three individual constructions that the municipality has built constitutes a unique and environmentally sustainable construction project. The housing project has been given the name ‘Sunrise’ and is a zero energy house, which means that it produces just as much energy as it uses. The building is constructed with certain mechanical solutions for ventilation, water and heating which do not require additional energy to function. The boulevard is a spectacular urban project, which not only gives the neighbourhood a boulevard, but also three different, attractive urban spaces in the shape of three large and open silos. By using different mechanical technologies, it has been possible to create beautiful, climatic and biotopically varied recreational zones that offer different functions. The boulevard is designed by the young, Spanish design office, Ecosistema Urbano. The last element, the park, was designed by the Japanese architect, Toyo Ito. The park is a cleverly thought-out design with naturally flowing streams. It uses plant growth in order to purify parts of the water flowing through Madrid. As an iconic project for environmentally sustainable urban planning, this Madrid project is unique. By combining the three elements — housing, boulevard and park, the municipality has created an inspiring and exemplary project. The idea of bringing these three elements together has been to

create a comprehensive story of sustainable urban development. Together, these three elements should be strong enough to shape an identity for this area in the south of Madrid, whilst inspiring other developers to act upon the idea and build in similar, sustainable ways. At the same time, the spectacular appearance of the physical elements have created architecture and planning tourism, where planners and politicians from other cities have visited and become inspired to boost the development of new city areas elsewhere within a large, iconographic narrative. Even though iconic buildings are constructed and used for different strategic purposes, it is in this position, as symbolic and practical models for good directions in development, that it truly makes sense to employ the power that such iconic constructions can generate.

Vision What is it today that represent the future of Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark (ASF-DK)? Globally we are tied closer together than ever before — between continents and across borders and cultures. Some of the poorest countries are undergoing rapid development, but often the poorest people are neglected. NGOs and relief organisations focus on creating cohesiveness in the society, strengthening local initiatives and supplying new knowledge to stimulate development. For this to be successful, they need the spatial framework: schools to improve children’s future prospects, hospitals to contribute to stability and security, social spaces where knowledge and experience can be shared. Foundations of the present which invest in the future. ASF-DK is experiencing an increasing interest, particularly from young architects, who are willing to donate their work for these less privileged people.

Over the past five years, we have become more conscious of our purpose and potential. We are still a young organisation. Often we initiate the projects we build ourselves, which demands an in-depth involvement in foreign societies and many efforts in fundraising. This occurs even before we start the work as architects. It has been an essential experience — building up the knowledge of how Danish architects work in unfamiliar cultures and complementing our professional qualifications within architecture and planning, which make the foundation of the organisation. In the future I envision ASF-DK as a professional consultancy organisation which establishes collaborations with other relief and development organisations to assist them with their endeavours. We aim to focus our engagement solely on offering our architectural and planning expertise, and thereby increase the number of people, who can benefit from our competencies. – Rune Asholt, Chairman, Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark

Thanks To the users and clients in Sierra Leone Tommy Garnett, Jinnah Musa, Abdulai Foday, Abdul Kargbor, Mr. Fancy, Patrice, Emma, David, Samuel, Muhammad, Taimy, Amin, Claudia Byjen and Marie Børresen. To the experts for their valuable contributions Peter Albrecht, Jørgen Eskemose Andersen, Jørgen Andreasen, Kristian Kreiner and Niels Bjørn. To all of you, who assisted the editors with material and facts Anne Katrine Røien, Petter Brandberg, Charlotte Wilhelmsen, Signe Kramer Mikkelsen, Pi Ekblom, Cecilia Rudstrom, Rasmus Hamann, Camilla Kragh, Patrick Kogler, Kym Lansell, Carina Refsing Nissen, Jonas Danborg and Wiebke Engels. To the contributing members of the organisation Marianne Filtenborg, Malte Warburg, Rune Asholt, Klaus Jørgensen, Anton Ryslinge and Sofie Wäborg. To all of you, who have helped making this book Eva Bjerring, Nina Wöhlk, Tania Storm, Ivan Korolev, Ryan Ingram, Sophie Brauer and Justine Bell To all our collaborators The Environmental Foundation for Africa, Project REACT and The Association Friends of Masanga. Danish Architects’ Association, The Danish Architecture Centre and The Danish Architectural Press, Leth and Gori, Kresten Nielsen and Centertryk A/S. To all, who have supported the realisation of this book The Danish Arts Foundation, The KAB Foundation and not least the brave pre-buyers for supporting us through crowdfunding.

ESSAYISTS Peter Albrecht Ph.D. in Security Sector Reform in Sierra Leone, Project Researcher, Danish Institute for International Studies. Albrecht’s expertise is in the field of security sector reform (SSR) in Sierra Leone, both as a set of policies and as individual programmatic approaches to reforming military, police, intelligence, judicial and oversight actors. His work focuses on local level implementation of SSR in Sierra Leone’s Kono District, and how security as a public service is being provided by state and non-state actors. Jørgen Andreasen and Jørgen Eskemose Andersen Associate professors, Former and present heads, Department of Human Settlements, The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation. Andreasen and Andersen have been researching and teaching in city planning and urban development in developing countries for more than thirty years. Both have lived and worked as urban planners in various countries, particularly the East African countries Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania. Andreasen and Andersen have been central figures in the foundation and development of ASF-DK. The starting meetings took place at DHS and throughout the past five years both have shared their expertise, experience and knowledge as active participants in the organisation.

EDITORIAL TEAM Kristian Kreiner Professor, Department of Organization, Copenhagen Business School. Founder and Director, The Center for Management Studies of the Building Process (2005-2010). Kreiner’s field of interest include organisation, order, efficiency, collaboration, coordination, choice etc. as variegated effects of historical, social processes. He study these processes, their circumstances and dynamics, from which he try to deduce managerial challenges and issues.

Tyra Lea Amdisen Dokkedahl Editor, Architect, Co-founder, Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark Frida Sophie Vang Petersen Editor, Architect, Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark Steen Andersen Writer, Editor, Forlaget PB43 Jens Dan Johansen M.A. Communication Design and Cand. Design, Independent Designer

Sources Niels, Bjørn Ph.D. in Urban Complexity and Cinematic Space, Urbanist with speciality in Social Sustainability, Film director, Writer and Consultant. Bjørn specialise in modernist urban planning mistakes and how to correct them. He is the editor of the critically acclaimed book Architecture, that changes — from ghetto to well-functioning urban area, a handbook on how to identify and solve issues related to social housing in Denmark.

Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark Architecture Sans Frontières International The Association Friends of Masanga Masanga Hospital Holy Spirit Hospital Makeni Project REACT The Environmental Foundation of Africa Wikipedia United Nations Environment Programme The World Factbook, CIA

Photographs Page 48–51 Paula’s House — finished. Pi Ekblom and Cecilia Rudström. Page 92 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum interior. WestportWiki. Creative Commons. Wikimedia. Page 92 Carabanchel Social Housing. Alejandro García González & Francisco Andeyro. Creative Commons. Wikimedia.

What role does architecture have in a developing country? How do architects work outside their own culture? How does one manage building projects on foreign soil? How can iconic buildings promote social change? This book is about the work of Architecture Sans Frontières Denmark in Sierra Leone between 2008–2013. It showcases five projects from several angles — the architectural, the tectonic, the social and the academic, whilst providing a forum for the different participants’ points of view. Together, the projects show what can be — and has been, learnt about architecture and building when working in foreign contexts, in this case Sierra Leone.

ISBN 978-87-995068-7-3

9 788799 506873

Profile for Arkitekter Uden Grænser / ASF - DK

Developing Architecture - Learning From Sierra Leone  

What role does architecture have in a developing country? How do architects work outside their own culture? How does one manage building pro...

Developing Architecture - Learning From Sierra Leone  

What role does architecture have in a developing country? How do architects work outside their own culture? How does one manage building pro...

Profile for webaug

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