Masoro Village Project: empowering communities through architecture

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“The construction of a small single-family home twenty kilometers north of Kigali, Rwanda is now complete. The building is demure: three small bedrooms, a modest living room, and a space for cooking. Poor material availability and financial limitations meant that practicality was its primary design muse. The house is the prototype for a series of homes that the designers, GA Collaborative, will build in Masoro for members of the women’s cooperative l’Association Dushyigikirane. With the project’s uncommon building method—earthbag construction, the first of its kind in Rwanda—GA Collaborative intends to empower its clients with knowledge of an inexpensive and speedy construction technique that requires little training and no prior construction experience.

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Earthbags are just one of the Masoro Village Project’s expedient departures from architectural norms. Common distinctions between the studio and the site, or among project stakeholders such as client, designer, and contractor, are virtually irrelevant here. The designers took on the role of fundraising for the project and brought an aesthetic sensibility to the task, envisioning StitchWorks, a series of prints and fabrics inspired by African textiles. As a cost-saving measure they also assumed the responsibilities of contractor, which enabled them to undertake a complete redesign after construction began, once budget and material availability updates were made on the ground. Assisting the designers on site were four students from the nascent architecture department at the Kigali Institute of Science & Technology (KIST), who also designed for the project a mutable piece of furniture (turning from a bed into a chair, then into a table). Also doubling as construction crew were clients, members of l’Association Dushyigikirane.

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The Association (Dushyigikirane is Kinyarwanda for ‘cooperation’) was formed in 1995, a year after the Rwandan genocide, by a group of women widowed by the conflict. What began nearly twenty years ago as a grassroots microfinance co-op is today a 600-member group operating a range of economic activities from the production of food to crafts, and social enterprises like orphanages, libraries, and banks. The aim of the co-op’s activities is social and economic empowerment for its members and the greater community of Masoro.

As the Masoro Village Project demonstrates, however, the use of local materials (earth) and building practices (plaster, woven screens) is as much evidence of economic expediency as cultural concern, echoing Ferguson’s diagnosis of certain examples of African ‘cultural resistance’ as no more than economic oppression, “where a ‘traditional African way of life’ is simply a polite name for poverty.” [2] One wonders how GA Collaborative and its Masoro clients would represent Rwandan domesticity given an American-sized budget. Ultimately, though, their project is less about the politicization of architecture than the ‘architecturalization’ of the political—a subtle semantic distinction, maybe, but one that shifts the importance from the built project to the project of building, from noun to verb. While the Masoro Village Project prototype has yet to be tested by habitation, the process and fieldwork involved in its realization have demonstrated that designers can deploy design and construction procedures politically (and cheaply), to serve an underserved global public. “

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(Via Archdaily)