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Sustainability through Collaboration

Design can be a powerful force for improving lives and strengthening communities. It is a tool for introducing new products and processes into everyday lives, whether at home or at work.[1] Design conceptualizes how things look, the way things are used, how they are communicated to the world and the way they are produced. Design projects involve hardware, software, people, processes, purpose, organization and behaviour.

Nyakongo2030 will harness the power of design as an instrument for innovation and development. It will engage students enrolled in design, engineering, building and construction courses to envision the future of sustainable living in the impoverished Nyakongo village. Thus the students will gain knew knowledge through hands-on learning.

Nyakongo Sustainable Design Challenge is a competition for multidisciplinary college student teams to design technologically innovative, environmental sustainable products and infrastructure for Nyakongo. It provides a framework for introducing students to the science and practical concepts of green architecture, engineering and design. It builds on this foundation of awareness and enhanced knowledge by encouraging the students to be innovative in seeking integrated and systematically focused solutions.  It challenges them to reorient their thinking and examine the world in a way they may not have otherwise.

The Sustainable Design Challenge will be mounted in partnership with the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK)’s Environmental Design Consultants Chapter, Schools of the Built Environment, Kenya Green University Network as a model of Socially-engaged Architectural and Engineering Education. 

This challenge provides an innovative learning opportunity for Fast-tracking Apprentice and Learning by Building. It entails “Live Projects” that involve 1:1 construction giving students the opportunity to design, manage and test their design ideas through construction.

  • Instead of the lecturers acting as both the clients and the trainers, they only remain as trainers.
  • The client becomes Nyakongo community and the Consulting Firms that would oversee the construction of the projects become mentors for the apprentices who developed the projects.
  • The winning students get a chance to work with the consulting firms and contractors as paid employees or attaché’s to oversee construction of their proposals.
  • Students learn how to use appropriate tools and materials while managing a real construction project with all its inherent health and safety, resourcing and budgeting issues.
  • They learn how to be creative in using an iterative process of ‘design through making’, producing architecture that is highly responsive to the real conditions of place, materials and construction.
  • The projects create a sense of possibility and creativity, problem-solving and togetherness among students.
  • The challenge accrues wider impact on communities, architectural education and practice.

[1] Edith Cresso’ Preface in John Thackara (1997) in Winners! How Today’s Successful Companies Innovate By Design.

Nyakongo Sustainable Design Challenge will mount the following two “Live Projects” in 2016-2017:

1. Nyakongo Sustainable Home Design Competition:

The quality of a home – the light, the spaces – can transform a family from a fearful, conflicted group of people where such a basic need is being met; where the design itself transforms grief into joy. (Dorothy Bulitt, Executive Director,   Habitat for Humanity of Seattle)

Over one billion people worldwide, and over 90% of families in Nyakongo live in mud-walled houses with dirt floors, leading to dusty, unhealthy air in the dry season and to mosquito-attracting puddles, wet moldy floors in the rainy season. The people of Nyakongo love their homes, but they wish they were a little bit more modern. The typical architects’ residential  projects in rural communities is high-end residential, involving sophisticated materials and techniques. Traditional construction materials such as rammed earth, bamboo, reeds were considered as backward and abandoned for modern materials. Housing delivery was transferred to corporate entities/contractors whose focus is on mass production for maximization of profit. They rely on specialist builders for all projects instead of giving room for the local artisans whose craft has been shaped by the same local conditions.

Nyakongo Sustainable Home Design competition presents the opportunity to reconnect with the fundamentals of construction. It aims at challenging students to push the boundaries of rural residential house design, to make it more modern, and more sustainable. It will focus on a rural home (village eco-resort) comprising of different housing typologies designed to model the future residential buildings or green homes in this rural village. These designs will emphasize community participation, integration of traditional building designs and local know-how. Legitimizing and giving dignity to the local artisans and community which has so much knowledge about their built form. Tapping into the huge knowledge system that exists within the local culture. 

The home design competition is therefore not just about designing a house, but enabling a fulfilling family life and a thriving sustainable rural building construction business.

2. Nyakongo GREEN Center Design Competition – Building a sustainable community with the community.

The second competition will entail the design of the proposed Nyakongo GREEN Center which is envisioned to be a container for the community services as well as a demonstration center for sustainable building and construction. It will be focused on the question, “How can we establish a new community with a sustainable architecture and engineering using local materials and resources?”

Nyakongo GREEN Center will be presented as a brief for one of the studio projects undertaken by Architecture, Design and Engineering students in their senior years of study (from 3rd –  5th Year). Architecture students, acting as lead consultants, will be responsible for constitution of the consortium for developing the design and development proposal. They are expected to recruit fellow student professionals from the following disciplines: Architecture, Urban and Regional Planning, Building Economics/Construction Management, Land Economics, Civil Engineering/Structural Engineering, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering (Building Services), Interior Design, Environmental Planning and Management and Sociology. The students will be tasked to flow their ideas, guidelines, procedures, precautions and relative techniques to establish a sustainable infrastructure in a local level which can resist natural calamities such as floods, landslide and drought. 

A national Sustainable Design Exhibition will be organized to inspire both designers and a broad audience by telling the stories of change agents  where.

  • The students shall present their design proposals at the Nyakongo Sustainable Design Exhibition.
  • This will happen after the students projects have been marked and graded as part of their coursework. All students will be eligible to voluntarily submit their projects for the Nyakongo Sustainable Design Challenge
  • The physical exhibition will be open to the public for viewing.
  • An online submission of the entries and exhibition of the projects will also be organized
  • A 3-stage judging and public voting process will be undertaken:
    • Technical Review – A diverse and inclusive expert jury will review the projects submitted
    • Users’ Vote – reserved for the citizens of Nyakongo community who are the clients of the center
    • General Public Vote

Nyakongo Sustainable Design Prize will be awarded to a successful design team selected through the design challenge. Winning student teams will be involved in the Construction and implementation of their design ideas as ‘student consultants’. Thus, the students’ proposals shall move beyond design as  an aesthetic intervention, to design as a way of improving the flow and functioning of community services, and enabling civic participation.