Students crowdfunding to build nursery in Africa

Donations are needed to help student architects build new nursery in Africa

University of Nottingham architecture students are asking for crowd-funding support to help them build a nursery in a South African village, ensuring its toddlers can access vital pre-school education.

Some 39 second-year undergraduate architecture students will head out to construct the new facility at the Rethuseng Créche in Lephepane Village, Limpopo, in just four weeks over Easter 2017.

Current facilities at the nursery drastically need improving to get young children school-ready, as they comprise just a single room, with no water supply and very basic toilets.

Project Myemyela (which means ‘smile’ in Sotho) will provide over 80m2 of new accommodation, new toilets and cooking facilities, and a reliable water supply that it is hoped will be shared with the village. 

For several months, participating students have competed in teams to develop innovative architectural designs for the new nursery.

The winning concept, which will be built on site, is a “deceptively simple solution to providing practical enclosed classrooms and external, shaded space for the teaching of pre-school children that will create a fun, landmark building for the community”, explained John Ramsay, Live Build project lead at the University.

The winning design

“The design permits a quick, efficient approach to building – the students must complete the project in four weeks – and is well suited to the available technology and construction methods in rural South Africa. Its form reflects traditional building in the area, while using simple modern materials in novel ways,” John adds.

The construction project is wholly funded by participating students. Each had to raise £2,000 in contribution towards the building materials and their flights in parallel to their studies.

Accompanied by six to eight academic and technical staff from the University’s Department of Architecture & Built Environment, the students will also carry out the on-site construction themselves.

The project team will be supported by a local network including Education Africa, the Thusanang Trust and many small contractors and suppliers in the nearby town of Tzaneen.

Using funds raised, more than 90% of materials and equipment will be bought or rented within 50km of the site. This effort to support the local economy is extended to employ skilled labour from surrounding towns and villages on the build where possible.

To donate to individual students or the entire team, please visit the Project Myemyela Just Giving page.

For the latest information on the project, visit the project website or like the Project Myemyela Facebook page.

Project Myemyela is the seventh instalment in the University’s live build initiative which gives second-year students the opportunity to design and build a nursery in South Africa.

Every student emerges with a deep understanding of place, social responsibility and technical resolution that is impossible to replicate in the studio – John Ramsay, Live Build project lead at the University of Nottingham

John Ramsay said: “Every student emerges with a deep understanding of place, social responsibility and technical resolution that is impossible to replicate in the studio.”

The students gain lots of valuable hands-on experience during the live build course module, which is a unique offering among architecture courses in UK universities.

“Participating students often outperform their peers. The project is recognised for particular praise by external examiners and is always the most compelling thing in portfolios when they are applying for work,” explains John. 

Project Tshela which ran last year saw students develop a brand new nursery in a small village called Mokomotsie, also in the Limpopo region.

Prior to the project, its existing school ran only on a volunteer basis, confined to a basic 3m x 6m brick structure. Many students were shocked at the poor conditions the school operated under.

The new building is now three times the size of the original nursery space. The larger space and improved facilities allowed the school to get formal registration and therefore government funding.

Building nurseries like these helps to readdress the inequality faced by pre-school children from rural African villages who often don’t have access to education prior to primary school. 

Project Tshela students also developed innovative new technology to help build the nursery in a four-week turn around.

This included an ingenious and economical design for a ply web truss – a lightweight structural component which spanned the required 10-metre building width and overhangs.

This simple timber box beam, with ply acting as its webbing was fixed externally to make the structure appear more elegant and increase its resistance to torsion. It was conceived by the winning team of five students and was finessed prior to travel in consultation with structural engineers and through prototyping in the workshop.

This clever design allowed the student builders to get the roof on the structure quickly, and therefore working in much-needed shade for the majority of the construction period.

What the nursery will look like

Ryan Boultbee, from last year’s the winning team, said: “The truss allowed us to span the greatest distance unimpeded with the least amount of work or material waste yet still arrive at an architecturally-beautiful solution.

“As far as I am aware this project represents the greatest internal span produced by the South Africa Live Build Unit so far. Working as a team we each used our respective skills to strengthen and enrich the scheme and bring to life the building we see today,” Ryan added.

The project offers a long list of experience, life skills, and opportunities, but there is only one way to find out what they are for you – Ryan Boultbee, from last year’s the winning team

Ryan is also emphatic that future second-year architecture students should take the Live Build module. “The project offers a long list of experience, life skills, and opportunities, but there is only one way to find out what they are for you.”

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