The African Building Platform


nEs – New Ethiopia Schools

Association of Ethiopian Architects
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The war in the northern part of Ethiopia has resulted in unimaginable destruction to the already strained infrastructure of Ethiopia. Among the hardest-hit facilities are school facilities. During its early assessments, the Ministry of Education (MoE) has accounted for at least 7,000 school facilities that are seriously affected, while half of these have been completely destroyed. The Ethiopian government in its effort to reconstruct these facilities has vouched to rebuild better schools for the children of Ethiopia. To this end on December 15, 2021, the MoE called on the Association of Ethiopian Architects (AEA) to come up with a new vision for these facilities; the new Ethiopia schools (.nEs.)

AEA accepted this national call as an opportunity for its members to contribute their professional knowledge in the rebuilding of their country. Currently, AEA is mobilizing and engaging its members in a three-stage approach. Stage I is the vision formulation and transla­tion stage, Stage II will be the preparation of full design documents for selected pilot projects and Stage Ill will be the compi­lation of prototype book for the .nEs. The presentation in this publication is an output of Stage I.

The Design Charrette Process

Vision formulation is a task that requires input from an informed, creative, and diverse group of individuals and professionals. To this end for the formulation of a bold vision for the .nEs. AEA adopted a popular idea harvesting method in the design industry that is called DESIGN CHARRETTE. Design Charrettes are design workshops or design studios that bring architects together with informed people from diverse backgrounds under a facilitated environment where these people are made to think creatively, or out of the box while de­bating, discussing, and sketching around a round table where ideas are encouraged to flow freely. After days of planning on January 5, 2022, AEA organized a one-day Design Charrette that brought together 60 people around 7 round tables/groups. High schools students, educators, child phycologists, authors, agriculturalists, environmentalists, architects, special planners, authors, artists, businessper­sons, school owners, experts from the MoE, forestry specialists, school feeding specialists, parents, and university students were some of the backgrounds of those that participated in the Design Charrette. The different ideas that came out from the Design Charrette were further grinded by a group of 20 architects who worked intensively for a period of twenty days to translate the ideas harvested from the seven tables into a Bold Vision for the .nEs. The presentation here is the explanation of this Vision for the .nEs.

Design Charrette Team

School Vision

I. Basic Conceptual Framework: Schools as Community Centers

In a country characterized by a young population, students constitute more than a quarter of the total population – making the net­works of students, teachers, and their communities the most effective web residing over the vast territory of the country. Further than being learning in­stitutions, schools represent a network that can be used as an ef­fective infrastructure to address the needs of communities everywhere -particularly communities in the remotest sites.

In rapidly urbanizing nations such as Ethiopia, schools in rural and suburban areas shall be conceived as the embryo and nucleus of future towns. Accord­ingly, they have to be designed with proper consideration of the school-community interaction and by providing appropriate public facilities that ad­dresses the basic needs of the immediate communities.

A school has to be organized on activity-based learning rather than class­room-based teaching. Furthermore, schools – at various levels, have

to be formulated as possible community-based laboratories for self-reliance and trade diversification. This can be guided by coupling the learning activities with production primarily, producing consumables for the school communi­ty itself and the community at large.

II. Proposed Major Programs and Activities

The school compound can be zoned into three areas: interface zone, protected zone, and production zone.

INTERFACE ZONE: a zone where the school becomes the community and vice versa. It incorporates both a space and school facilities that are shared with the community.

Public plaza – an interface of school and community, as community communal
event space:
Reading space – library – also open for the members of the community;
Gallery space – art display, community shop;
Dinning space – cafeteria (student dining space with kitchen – either within interface zone or integrated with agriculture field); Sports field, gymnasium, school hall (serving as community hall); Restoration and student care – Clinic (sharing it with the community for minor treatments)
Staff Housing – either within the compound or within the settlement *but developed with the school)

Interface zone plan

PROTECTED ZONE: prime teaching-learning zone where students and family feel safe and secure.

Administration – offices
Classrooms – for Class-based learning
Learning through testing – Laboratories (science, math, language)
Staff facilities – offices
Auxiliary activities: Storage facilities

Protected zone plan

PRODUCTION ZONE: Agri-fields (Agricultural activities – for the production of food) Learning through doing-workshops for arts, crafts, science/technology.

Production zone plan


The prime goal of education is to understand the mechanisms in nature and to learn a method of coexistence among/with ourselves and with nature. Accordingly, schools are best when they are embedded within the natural environment. The spatial and formal structures of schools have to be developed with a target of achieving a green, clean, physically comfortable, safe, and joyful spatial environment.

Environmental, economic, and cultural realities into which the school is going to be embedded, have to be considered as a basis in designing particular schools in a particular locality. School designs have to be responsive to local climate, explore locally available materials, and local building skills and building culture. However, an utmost attempt has to be made to achieve meaningful and inspiring quality in the built structures. Both the Product (the built form) and the Process (of making the built form) have to be the object of contextual setting.

Schools have to secure reliable water sources. If accessing an existing water source is difficult, developing water (water well, water harvesting, purification, etc) has to be one of the basic goals in the design formulation of school complexes. Such provision can also be extended to serve the surrounding community. Hygiene facilities (toilets, showers. etc., which often are difficult to find in the rural household) have to be conceived as a core element of school infrastructure in Ethiopia. If proper hygiene facilities can be established in schools, it indeed can transform public health conditions in the country. In areas where such infrastructure is rare, the facilities can be designed in a way to be cherished and shared by the local community – making schools a relevant center for the wellbeing of the community at large.

Plugging into the internet with proper care ensures access to an incredible wealth of knowledge resources. However, such technologies are dependent on electrical energy.
On the other hand, electrical energy is a vital resource for almost all contemporary economic and cultural practices. Schools of almost all levels are centers of contemporary excellence – centers to germinate economic and cultural transformations of society. Hence, this vital resource has to be taken as one of the major coordinates in establishing schools. If the location of the school is difficult to access an existing energy grid, alternative energy sources such as solar energy and wind energy have to be explored as viable localized energy sources.

The habitual assumption that relates quality with high cost is simply wrong. Quality is a function of attitude and creativity. Human intelligence and thought! unless are credited for value addition and improvement of quality in human life. Quality – in spatial production – is primarily a function of innovation in design otherwise referred to as good architecture. Furthermore, quality is also subjected to a culture of care-full-ness (precision) in construction and a culture of upkeeping (maintenance – the concept, which many argue, does not even have a common Amharic word). Communities and students have to be tasked with continual (ritual) maintenance work to keep the facilities functioning for long. Classrooms and other facilities have to be designed and built with appropriate spatial and technical standards (focusing on student needs). Quality standards imply multiple attributes than the usual description of room sizes.

Circle up, not line up! From the morning assembly
to the classroom setup, the concept of student-centered learning is consistently expressed in the physical design of the school. Spaces that nurture the unique potentials of every student.

The assembly is the central organizing element and the nucleus of the three sectors of the school: the Protected, the interface, and the Production areas. Serves as a central meeting point or a performance center (amphitheater) to students and the community.

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© July, 2024 Ketema Journal

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