“Making architecture for yourselves”

Making a self build school in DR Congo
An opportunity rose in a small social interchange between professors at my University. A professor from DR Congo talked about his wish to establish a progressive school and manage it at his home in his own country, later on his life. Therefore, we have decided that the laboratory, professionalized in the educational method, can build its school educational programs, and we can design the architectural hardware for his school. 
Democratic Republic of the Congo (old Republic of Zaire) owns the third largest land in Africa and also owns the abundant underground natural sources. Although the civil war has continued for a long time, the western capital, Kinshasa, was relatively stabilized, and the civil war in the East was almost to be terminated. Even though the country was waiting for their economical growth, their infrastructure was inadequate and the elementary education was depended on civilians. ACADEX elementary school is one of those private schools that were relied on civilians.
By researching the construction technology and the distribution of building materials in the country, we determined that we can participate in its construction if the locals build walls and Japanese construct a roof. After we have visited the site on the summer of 2008, the locals in DR Congo started to build the walls made out of sun-dried blocks based on drawings produced and sent from Japan. On the second year in the summer of 2009, Japanese students flied over to the site and covered the wooden trusses on the roof with the local volunteers. The first building of this project has completed and already inaugurated. We have operated all the processes of this self built project, such as designing, obtaining the materials, and constructing the building by ourselves.
I have realized from this project that “self build” is not only “building by yourselves” but also “building for yourselves”. “Building by yourselves” seems to become only for your hobby purposes, but “building for yourselves” relates to the meaning of the action to make architecture.
I started to think this way since I have designed another university project, Paper Temporary School-Chengdu Hualin elementary school in China, with Mr. Shigeru Ban in 2008. Moreover, after working with the local Congolese volunteers, I have noticed again that the meaning of “self build” indicates the possibility of “building for yourselves”. It is the realization of the strong bond between people who need architecture. It is different from building architecture for speculative money to unknown consumers, but it is to design directly for people who really care about what they really need. The real value of “self build” is not about contentment of builders or lower cost of buildings, but about the interchange of people’s serious cares. Furthermore, by looking at this from larger perspectives, in order to make a “building” define as “architecture”, it depends on this cares of clients, architects and users, who consider of the architecture as their own.

Architecture with “3 themes of ‘without’”
Architecture is to be made for “yourselves”, or the only ones that are made for “yourselves” can be defined as architecture. Clients, of course, wish to have the needs for “themselves”, and architects also wish to create the ideals for “themselves”. Users, who have “themselves” to like the place, tend to get together. Designing is to connect and balance those each “selves”. For this ACADEX project, it was a group of “selves” who wanted to go to Africa, who wanted to talk with Japanese, and who wanted to change the current situations. Africa is defined as the world poorest country, the civil war, a developing country, and etc, however, this project does not have political correctness and sympathy for its poorness. It is not only about the pleasures of “making by yourselves” at the same time. Because there is the real joy of gathering with people who are “making for themselves”, they try to build the architecture together.
This simple cabin, which only prevents rain, wind, and strong sunlight, does not need to be insulated but only protect children from the heavy rain during the rain season and the strong sun during the dry seasons. We had a shot of yellow fever in Japan and took for 24 hours with two connecting flights to Kinshasa. I call this project as “3 themes of ‘without’”.  This elementary school “without the final form”, “without enforcement”, and “without accuracy” will be enlarged by one additional building a year and by changing its shape also every year. When the first year students turn into the sixth year to graduate, this project will complete. We will not rush.

technical description
Building with local materials
The most of the buildings in DR Congo, except for high-income people, are made out of steel sash and single glass windows, galvanized corrugated plates roofs, wooden frames, and concrete columns and beams with sun-dried blocks filling between them.  Because the sun-dried blocks are made by hand at the site, the shape of them is inconsistent. The lumber and wooden materials are warped by their poor maintenances. Because we have decided to employ the local materials for this ACADEX School, we did not have any other choice besides using these low maintained materials. It is about how we can build buildings with flexible adjustment by using local materials. This is not about building coarsely, but requiring innovational ideas on its design and construction processes.

The wooden truss system structure
We have employed wooden truss system with two crossed struts’ scissors-like form by consulting with Japanese engineers. Because the sun-dried block construction is structurally unstable, it was common to keep the height of the wall around 2,200 mm for single story in this region. We used the wooden truss system with two crossed struts in order to gain the taller interior ceiling in irrelative to the short walls. The local traditional construction methods cannot make tall ceilings in the interior space because of using unnecessary thick materials. However, this wooden truss system with two crossed struts creates the open space and is easy to be constructed because of less numbers of connections comparing to the ordinary construction methods. Bringing in the unordinary construction method into the site, this project acquired its comfort and convenient features of the space.

Furniture made out of plywood
Because DR Congo does not produce plywood within the country, a 1220 mm x 2440 mm and 12 mm thick board costs expensive as 50 US dollars. However, because the measurements of those plywood boards are consistently accurate, and mass-producing furniture with same specifications is more advantageous for this project, we have purchased these boards in large quantities. Then, we built stacking furniture of chairs and desks. One desk and two chairs can be made from one sheet of 1220 mm x 2440 mm board. Because each of them is trapezoid shape in plan, they can be applied to the various combinations of placement for different purposes. 

Toward the suitable architecture for this place
Japanese students and the local volunteers participated in the constructions of the first building on July 2008, July and August 2009 three periods in total. The first period of construction for the walls and the second period of construction for the roof were constructed by the local volunteers based on the drawings sent from Japan. The third of period construction for the roof was built by six Japanese students and the ten local volunteers taking for 13 days. Japanese quick-thinking and Congolese enhanced physical ability let us overcome many difficulties we have faced on. We needed to have our mind more flexible to accept the constraints and changes of our plan. This is different from changes caused by compromises. It is not indigenous or progressive, but a renewal toward the “suitable architecture for this place”.


Project name: DR Congo, ACADEX Elementary School
Design: Keio University SFC Hironori Matsubara Laboratory
Architect: Hironori MATSUBARA, Toshiki KUWABARA, Yoko TATEMOTO, Yoshihiro NARAHARA, Taihei SHINODA
Address: Quartier Kimbondo, Kinshasa, DR Congo
Site area: 2350 sq. m.
Building area: 52.8 sq. m. (850.7 sq. m. in future extension)
Total floor area: 52.8 sq. m. (850.7 sq. m. in future extension)
Building maximum height: 5420 mm, eave height: 2460 mm, ceiling height: 5200 mm
Floor number: 1 floor above ground
Structure: wall/sun - dried blocks, roof / timber, foundation / concrete
Exterior finish: roof / galvanized corrugated plate + vinyl chloride plates, exterior wall / sun - dried blocks + thin mortar finish, openings / steel sash + single glass, corridor surface / then mortar finish
Interior finish: floor / mortar finish, wall / sun-dried blocks + thin mortar finish, ceiling / exposed wood trusses
Design period: Dec. 2007 - Jul. 2009
Construction period: Jul. 2008 C Aug. 2015 (will be completed)
Completion period: Aug. 2015 (will be completed)
Construction: Keio University SFC Hironori Matsubara Laboratory + local volunteers
Client: Individual
Photographer: Ken Ochiai