Socially Active Ecosystems
How to enable a sustainable socio-economic development for rural Rwanda?

Rwanda is considered an example of accelerated modernization. Key element of this fast process is how to combine the physical planning strategy with the vision of society. Envisioning “a long-term bright future of Rwanda” the Government launched the ECD Policy in 2010 “to combat ignorance and illiteracy and to provide human resources useful for the socio-economic development through the education system.” Children, who are well nurtured and cared for in their earliest years, are more likely to achieve their full potential as adults. Currently just over 12% of children between 3 and 6 have access to learning services: to meet the MDG targets of 100% enrollment by 2017, public education facilities should be implemented in rural areas. As poverty, education levels, and performance as an adult are directly linked, the provision of public education facilities is essential to raise the GDP of Rwanda.

The ECD Centers are collective and interdisciplinary projects addressing the interface between ecosystem and socioeconomic environment at both community and national levels: they react to the physical and cultural landscape and conceive child stimulation as something that concerns the entire community. Architecture, at any scale and in every location, impacts its environment: even small projects act in the formation of the roots of society and appear as the paradigm of participatory design and an interdisciplinary approach to catalyze a social change.

The ECD centers integrate different programmatic components (stimulation rooms, multipurpose hall, kitchen, administration, water and sanitation facilities, playground, and kitchen garden) at various scales: territorial, settlement and building. The main pillars of the design are the role of a central space as catalyst for community gathering, and the modular structure, where components can adapt to different terrains originating similar facilities. Two main typologies have been tested with either a circular or a S-shaped plan. The modules are single story structures, built with locally produced fired bricks, whose patterns and multiple openings contribute to the sensorial stimulation of children, while providing natural lighting and cross ventilation. The porch connects all modules, there is a dedicated area for playground, and a system for rainwater harvesting. The kitchen garden is used to promote innovative agricultural and nutritional techniques. Solid waste, processed in the composting toilets, is used as fertilizer.

The Centers react to their surroundings as means to address the interface between the natural and socioeconomic environment at community level. They promote cross-pedagogical activities and serve as community space for social activities that give the ownership of the space, making it socially sustainable and environmentally efficient. The design strategies foster children and their community to increase family-family and family-community cohesion. Moreover the use of local materials and builders both empowers the community and promotes social equity. The community develops construction skills later adopted to enhance private houses and access more job opportunities: last step in the virtuous cycle to enable the sustainable socio-economic development of Rwanda.

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