The River School
L’Ecole du Fleuve draws inspiration from the rivers around the Casamance region, while also paying homage to the tradition of making and using buckets and baskets in Senegal. Just as the river is central to the region’s cultural and economic life, the high school becomes a new hub for education, culture and economic opportunity through its use of local materials, affordable construction techniques, and programming.
Adopting the idea of a river bend, the building arcs to form a protective courtyard accessed through two delta-shaped entrances. Every classroom and program faces the courtyard, where collective life and community-building unfolds. At its heart is the existing tree. School members can comfortably assemble underneath the tree’s extensive shade, whether informally between classes or for more organized events and celebrations. The doors of the classrooms are made of bamboo screens which can fully open and extend the classroom into the courtyard itself. The school accommodates a small kitchen, where nutritious meals can be made with vegetables grown on-site.
Water can be harvested through two methods. The ground in the courtyard is gently terraced to channel rainwater into two percolation ponds. An up to 5m deep hole is drilled in each pond, and a PVC pipe with slots cut along its side is inserted. The pipes recharge water into the ground, rehydrating the existing well. Gutters can also be installed along the roof to collect directly into a tank located in the restroom.
The undulating outer façade features adobe bricks made using plastic buckets as molds. The bricks are stacked in a pattern evoking the iconic way women in Senegal balance baskets on their heads, and pay tribute to a humble everyday object from local life. The façade interplays solid material thickness with the lightness produced by the gaps between the bucket-bricks’ tapered silhouettes, letting in sun while ensuring steady ventilation.
The load-bearing walls are made of adobe cast in-situ using T-molds, which is a simple and fast way to build using clay, sand and straw, stabilized with a small amount of cement to further speed up the process. Locally-grown bamboo can be used to make trusses supporting the metal roof.
The restroom places the latrine pit close to the street, where it has a service door for easy access by cleaning services. Specialty toilets like the SaTo system can provide a more hygienic experience for the latrines at low cost.
Tina Gao, Prathyusha Viddam, Amy Zhang