House of Rain

House of Rain

  • by Architecture for Humanity
  • Oct 09, 2010
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In 2008, while celebrating the success in bringing purified water, electricity and a computer lab to the St. Joseph Mahiga Primary School in Kenya, Turk Pipkin and The Nobelity Project were asked by the local community and the Kenyan education district to partner on building the area's first secondary school. The plan to build Mahiga Hope High School took a crucial step when the Nike GameChangers Fund was presented to the team's proposal to build a RainWater Court, a multi-use basketball court which would also provides the school's purified drinking water.

More than a Game
While the RainWater Court would also provide a stage for community meetings, performances and outdoor classes, The Nobelity Project and the community of Mahiga were able to use the support of Architecture for Humanity and the GameChangers Micro-venture Fund as a catalyst for the idea of a model school for rural Africa. Serving 350 High School students, the school would have 8 modern classrooms, a computer lab, library, science labs, kitchen and dining hall, gardens and orchard. All facilities would utilize local building materials, sustainable practices, and provide equal access to girls and boys, including in sports.

Collaborative Building
The collaborative design process was led by Architecture for Humanity design fellow Greg Elsner, who lived in the community for the past 15 months, and who worked closely with key community members, including Samson Mutongu and his father Joseph Mutongu, who's vision of a better future through education for the children of Mahiga lies at the heart of all this work.

Greg and the construction team worked closely with the local community on design concepts, and construction labor was performed by area contractors and labor, and in many cases by local community members who turned out in large numbers to spread rock on flooded roads and terrace the land for construction.

Droughts in this area have become increasingly severe, and rainwater capture and storage played a crucial role in each structure, with the school designed for over 100,000 liters of total catchment and storage. Guttering on each building makes it possible to fill all of those tanks with just 2" of rain.

The RainWater Court is a full-court basketball/multi-sport court with an integrated rainwater collection system, two 15,000 liter ferro-cement storage tanks and solar power providing UV purification of the water and night security lighting. The full-court configuration has a 4,850 sq. ft. playing surface covered by metal roof and guttered to collect well over 100,000 liters of water per year from this structure alone. Purified water is accessed from a integrated water tap and is also piped directly to the new school kitchen which utilizes high-efficiency wood stoves, reducing firewood use by 65%.

Between the enclosed storage tank/equipment areas, a small stage faces the court, converting the sport facility, into a covered performance space for local music and theater, an outdoor/covered classroom and dining area, and a shaded community meeting space. The building's sixty-foot truss spans arches were erected without a crane, no small engineering feat for Greg Elsner and Boslika Construction.

Community Initiative
While the school was under construction, the community took the initiative to launch Mahiga Hope High School in temporary classrooms. The school currently has 37 students in grades 9 & 10 (Kenyan Form One and Two), with funding from tuition from those who are able to pay it, and modest bridge support from The Nobelity Project. In January, 2010, the new Kenyan school year will begin with the school transferring to Kenya's Kieni West Education District as a fully accredited public school. Over 100 students are initially expected in 3 grades. Within a year, the school will have four full grades and will be preparing to graduate their first students.

The community is also organizing a mentor program that will bring Kenyan professionals from the areas of sports, business, tourism, technology and more to counsel and guide students. A new pre-school designed by American architect Christina Tapper will expand preschool enrollment to 60. Total capacity from pre-K through Grade 12 is 800 students.

In "Building Hope - Foundations" a Nobelity Project short film by Turk Pipkin, you get a sense of the collaborative nature of the project and how a holistic response can positively impact an entire community.

Community Ownership
This RainWater Court was designed and built with the community, it is important that the community has full ownership of the building. This is the main reason Architecture for Humanity does not put logos on buildings. At the end of the construction phase the original community team came together and gave the structure a name in the local Kikuyu language, "The House of Water for the Village of Mahiga."

And then the heavens opened
The Grand Opening of the School and RainWater Court in early October was a huge celebration attended by over 1,000 people. Highlights included two children's choirs, traditional dances, men's and women's pro basketball teams coaching and playing with local students, and ribbon cuttings on the court, libraries and classrooms. Thanks to the Nobelity Project, more than 2,500 books were stacked in the new library and new computers filled the computer room where high school students watched "Planet Earth" DVDs.

The day concluded with the first rains on the RainWater Court, a wonder multiplied many times over the next day when the heavens opened up and it started to pour with rain, with over 12,000 liters of fresh water streaming into the tanks. While the rain seemed very much like a miracle, it was only one part of an incredible transformation that will provide true opportunity for generations to come.

Special thanks to the village of Mahiga, Nike Social Innovation, The Nobelity Project, Greg Elsner, Cristina Tapper, Michael Jones, Turk Pipkin, Willie Nelson, Boslika Building Contractors, Dick Clark Architecture, Elaine Uang, Mazingira & Engineering Consultants, Minorah Construction, Multiplex Systems and others for their support and dedication.

*There are still ten $25K grants available to upgrade, repair and build sports for social change facilities. Interested? Apply for a grant from the gamechangers sports micro-venture fund