December 15, 2020 Architecture Students Design Flood-Resistant Masterplan for School in Mozambique

rendering of school in Mozambique


In a unique design research studio for fifth-year Architecture students, Asst. Professor Maged Guerguis introduced his students to great need existing 9,000 miles away and how this need can and should be addressed by architecture created right here in Tennessee.

In fall 2020, Guerguis’s students were introduced to a school in Mozambique. Located on the southeast coast of Africa, Mozambique is a diverse country with mountains, lowlands and coastal plains. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an average annual income of about $1,300.

graphic image showing map of world and distance from knoxville to mozambique

Mozambique’s recent history includes significant strife. Through a civil war that lasted two decades, more than 4 million people were displaced, and close to 1 million people died from violence and related disease and famine.

The coast of Mozambique, while stunningly beautiful, is prone to monsoon rains that cause significant flooding and cyclones. Alternatively, drought regularly affects much of the country. In addition to many other impacts, these natural disasters leave hundreds of thousands of children with no access to education.

In the midst of this seemingly desperate and dark existence is light and optimism. The civil war created many orphaned children, but they have a chance to thrive through the generosity and vision of Sybil Baloyi, director of Hlauleka school in Chokwe, Mozambique, a school she founded 10 years ago in response to the children’s need. Guerguis learned of her extraordinary task and met with Baloyi to discuss how he and his students could support her life-changing vision.

“As I learned about her mission to serve the children and her plan to expand the school, I wanted to take this as an opportunity for us as a school to help in a tangible way,” Guerguis said.

In the fall studio, students studied the social, economic and cultural short- and long-term impacts that natural disasters can have on schools and education. They conducted precedent studies of school buildings around the world, and as they collaborated with Baloyi, they also learned about Mozambique, potential local construction techniques and the future of the Hlauleka school.

photos of school children in Mozambique

“We were provided with a unique opportunity to communicate with the client to more thoroughly understand the needs and vision of the school,” said student Kristin Pitts. “Most critical to the school is the need for expansion as it has experienced significant growth since its inception over a decade ago.”

“Direct access to those involved with the school and surrounding communities established a clear framework for site and structure potentials,” said student Will Nix.

With advanced research as a foundation, students developed ideas for the school campus masterplan. They were challenged to design a sophisticated flood-resistant campus that can withstand torrential storms while providing needed amenities using only simple technologies and limited resources found locally.

“Resources and environmental concerns were the most critical factors to be considered and addressed,” Pitts said.  “The design resolves both as it seeks to capitalize upon local, accessible resources and familiar building methods in the construction of resilient structures that support the needs, performance and longevity of the Hlauleka school.”

Students worked toward designs that address the overall demand for affordable, innovative, resilient and environmentally sustainable functional buildings that can be applied to other areas in the region. To enable construction of the buildings, students also created building prototype manuals for local builders.

designs of school in Mozambique

“Our studio was fundamentally about achieving insights into the social, economic, political and spatial qualities congruent with extreme climate conditions and disaster relief for the community,” Nix said. “Each student team took its own unique approach in confronting these issues, but at the core, we were all working toward flexible and resourceful strategies for the malleable needs of the school.”

The studio demonstrated to students that architecture can be used to address great need in any part of the world.

“For me, architecture used to render assistance in circumstances of basic need is, in many ways, the most meaningful architecture in its undeniable use as a tool to serve others and affect change,” Pitts said. “In this instance, it is especially raw and powerful. [Architecture’s] potential to improve lives and provide dignity through the design and construction process in a very palpable way profoundly resonated with me.”

Nix added, “The studio dissolved boundaries and provided a lasting framework of responsive design approaches for the future of a thriving community.”

Students in the studio include Gisele El Baaklini, Chris Burke, Zachary Cessna, Hollywood Conrad, Matthew Crow, Sandra Ghabrial, Ariani Harrison, John Hooten, Patrick Keogh, Anthony Neuendorf, William Nix, Julianna Olsen, Kristin Pitts, Deniz Soydan and John Worsham.

Guerguis, who is the McCarty Holsaple McCarty Endowed Professor, collaborated with students in the college’s chapter of National Organization of Minority Architecture Students (NOMAS) to develop the fall studio. He intended that his students would travel to Mozambique to help in the construction of the masterplan they designed. The coronavirus pandemic prevented this travel.

“I see this as a future opportunity to make a difference in the lives and futures of the children of the area and for our students to get first-hand learning experience of the entire process from design to construction,” Guerguis said.

Just as the future of the studio holds promise, the future of the children in Mozambique is brighter today.

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