Sunday, October 6, 2013

With A Vision Comes Provision

So far most of my posts have been about the cultural experiences in Uganda, but now I will share about the design work we did *for those of you interested in architecture*.

When we arrived in Uganda, the EMI team was only aware that we were being asked to design a primary school and master plan for the organization Youth With a Mission. A few of us were nervous that five architects were going to have to collaborate on the design of one school and actually agree upon a design in one week. However, as always, God was a step ahead.

On day one we had a programming meeting with the YWAM directors. They were extremely excited for the design of the primary school, but added that they had dreams of a "hospitality center" as well. They didn't seem confident that we would have time to do both projects, and they were aware that it was kind of throwing us for a loop...but they explained their visions anyway:
In the past, YWAM had been approached by different groups and organizations interested in holding events at the existing YWAM conference center, only to be turned away because there was no room [in the inn...get it?! How metaphoric...]. Further, the directors had detailed thoughts of what this hospitality center would look like...a cross-shaped structure with a common area at the intersection that had a fountain and plants...a real oasis for their guests to gather around. The hospitality center would not only be a blessing to the people interested in using their conference center, but it would also be a huge financial blessing to the YWAM ministry. If they were able to charge fees for groups holding conferences, retreats, or on vacation, they would be able to better support the construction of the primary school, and possibly even cover school fees for the kids.

The idea for a primary school came about as a request from parents. YWAM currently has a daycare on their site with almost 150 children in attendance. The children receive a solid Christian education that they would not otherwise get. After daycare, however, there is no Christian primary school for the kids. The education received at a government school in Uganda is basically useless, if not harmful with false teachings, and private schools are expensive. Therefore, there was no question that a school must be built!

With two projects on the table now, we were perfect in numbers. Split into two teams, we got busy with the designs.

This is Rose, who currently runs the YWAM Hopeland Pre-School

We interviewed Rose and some of the YWAM staff to understand what their needs are, how classes are taught in Uganda, and what they hope to see in the primary school

 We also walked the site to understand where the school is going to be built. The property is adjacent to a sugarcane farm - you can see in the the photo above we're standing on the property line, grass on one side and remnants of harvested sugarcane on the other.

These buildings will most likely be built in phases due to the availability of funding, so that became one driving factor in the design. We imagined that the school could be built one classroom at a time so that each year the oldest students move up into a new building, until the P-1 students are in the P-7 building 7 years down the road. Shana and Pearly spearheaded the design of the school and came up with an awesome scheme that takes into consideration many things that YWAM hadn't even thought of. The unfortunate reality in Uganda, is that security is a major issue, yet it is not always addressed. Currently the site has a really ineffective "fence" around parts of it, but it is not adequate. We were told that school children had been kidnapped in neighboring areas to be offered as human sacrifices, and the YWAM staff were fearful that this could happen to their own. To address security, the design creatively uses the site layout and building plans to provide more protection.

Master Plan of the School and Hospitality Center

The northern-most portion of the YWAM site will be dedicated to the grade schools. The EMI team proposed that the existing pre-school be re-purposed for use in conjunction with the Primary school and that a new pre-school be built. This concentrates the older kids into one area, and the younger kids into another. A new administration building will be built between the two, to act as an entry point and teacher workspace.

Plan and Section of two classrooms

The proposed primary school consists of the above plan duplicated four times. Each of the four sets will have two classrooms with a descended courtyard in between. The design of the school lends itself well to indoor-outdoor living, as the Ugandans love to do. With this design, it is easy for teachers to open the wall of doors and spill outside. The courtyard steps down so that kids can sit along the edge while the teacher talks. A solid wall along the exterior of the site is incorporated for security, while the opposite side opens towards the campus and the covered walkway that connects all 8 classrooms.

Rendering of the Primary School

The cross-shaped hospitality center actually lends itself really well to phasing, as each wing could be built separately, if necessary. Since Uganda is in a seismic zone capable of producing earthquakes, it was also important that each wing be structurally independent of each other. Initially, the YWAM staff expressed interest in having a 4-story building...initially and every day since. Taller buildings are seen as a symbol of status in Uganda, and it was simply their interest in an awe-inspiring structure that fueled this desire...however EMI would not comply. It is so difficult to regulate the construction practices in Uganda that the only way to ensure a safe structure is to build a maximum of two-stories.

Aerial view of the Hospitality Center

The cross-shape does have a major inherent problem in that no matter the orientation there will always be at least two wings with poor sun exposure. To mitigate this, our design uses loggias on the west sides to block the hot, setting sun. At night, therefore, when most time is spent in the bedroom, it will be as cool as possible. We also recommended locations for trees to be planted, which will work perfectly because any seed dropped on the ground will grow a tree in Uganda.

The long, narrow wings were extremely helpful for cross-ventilation. Without a double-loaded corridor, it is possible for air to flow in one side of the room and out the other. It also means that the toilets can have exterior access (necessary in Uganda for plumbing and ventilation), but not open out onto the walkway.

Cross-section of the bedrooms. On the bottom is a typical dormitory-style, single-loaded corridor. On the top is a two-person room section that explains how the roof allows for ventilation in the circumstances where it is not a single-loaded corridor.

A lot of effort was put into determining what kinds of bedrooms were needed in this hospitality center. Since YWAM hasn't hosted too many events and conferences before, it was hard for them to know what types of people and groups would be using this building. After much conversation, three general room-types were determined: A dormitory-style room with hall toilets, a two-person room with an ensuite, and a larger, two-room suite for families, guest lecturers, or chaperones. An effort was also made to explain the possible furniture layouts of each room type. The dimensions of the rooms were based off of typical bed sizes, so that each room was as efficient as possible. We diagrammed several room layouts to explain the different numbers of inhabitants each could accommodate.

two different dormitory furniture layouts

The two-person room with two twins or a double bed

The suite-style room opening out onto an end terrace.

The overall floorplan

These local cast-concrete blocks are used in several of the YWAM buildings, so we were excited to incorporate them in our design as they are an affordable way to add beauty.

Rendering of the Hospitality Center's central atrium. The red handrails are intended to be built out of the cast-concrete blocks.

Dr. Tim, the director of YWAM Hopeland, had a distinct vision of what the central courtyard space would look like. He wants a fountain in the center that has a large set of sculpted hands above, meant to symbolize God, with water pouring out over smaller hands in prayer position. He imagined an opening in the roof to allow rain to come down into the fountain, although we agreed with his wife that it wasn't quite practical to have a hole in the roof. We compromised by suggesting they build the framework for a roof over a small hole in the center, which could be tiled if the rain turns out to be a problem, but looks pretty cool if it's not. 

After 7 days of designing, Michael ironed a sheet out on the wall, and we presented to the YWAM staff.

Me presenting

The YWAM staff watching and listening and sleeping

And their reaction was wonderful! The YWAM director of Uganda, Uncle Leo (front and center in the picture above), told a story about sitting in the same exact spot (which was a funny coincidence since we were supposed to hold the presentation in a different building) several years before, dreaming up the YWAM Hopeland site. The ground was only concrete and none of the windows or the blue wall in the back were in existence. It really made us all believe that it wouldn't be long until this school and hospitality center were a reality, because as he said, "With a vision, comes a provision". And God will provide!

the cute boys that might go to our school someday!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Architects: Because Engineers Need Babysitters

     One of the most unique cultural experiences of Uganda was Church. As I said before, we went to the local church that is attended by the YWAM director and his family. It was posted to start at 9:00, so we started left the YWAM base at 10:15 (It's like a Ugandan 9:00). Shockingly, we were the last people there! The church was packed, but the Ugandans displayed their generous nature by instantly shuffling the entire congregation around to fit our group inside. They pushed the kids to the floor and squeezed 5 to a bench, and once we all got settled the worship started.
     The songs were a mix of English and Luganda, some we knew and some we didn't. Once the sermon started, the service was about as far as you could get from the up and down dance of the Catholic church. In the Ugandan church you have to sit. On a very hard bench. With no back. Without crossing your legs!! It was so difficult. And the most amazing thing was that the children on benches sat completely still and stared straight ahead for the whole sermon. The 2+ hour sermon was not only long, but was preached in English and translated into Luganda, making it extra lengthy and hard to concentrate.
     Of course, the building was also a huge departure from the ornate churches we are used to. It was a simple concrete rectangle with a dirt floor or very dirty concrete floor. No A/C of course, but all of the windows and doors were open. The ceiling was clad in bamboo mats for some acoustic control. As always, the Ugandans were dressed very nicely... some more than others. I imagine some of the dresses probably made their way from a thrift-store donation made by American high school girls after they were finished with their prom dresses. I'm talking hot pink, rhinestoned, satin dresses. It was adorable.

Pearly's Photo - Walking to Church

After church we got straight back to work! It might have been Sunday, but we only had a week to design and draw up a whole school and hotel!

A unique thing about working with EMI, is that architects, civil engineers, structural engineers, electrical engineers, and geotechnical engineers all work side by side. I think we all found it exciting to see more of what happens in the other disciplines. Typically architects hire engineering consultants that they email with often and talk to on the phone in the case of confusion. Many of us didn't know exactly what the other disciplines do, but when we are all located in the same place we really got to see how each discipline contributes to the project.

So here's what I found the engineers do:

they test the water for e coli

they test the alkalinity, chlorine, nitrogen, and iron content in the water

 they dig grave-like holes... test the soil

and percolation tests to determine the soil's ability to hold or drain water

they inspect the electricity on the this case they determined that ants had eaten through a lot of the wires in the ground. This caused the electricity to NOT be grounded in some places. Which meant that when I turned on the hot-water heater in the shower (I was being SO hopeful that we might have hot water...what a silly expectation) I got a major shock that shot my hand back and left it tingly for a few hours.

And last but not least...
The structural engineers (Brad) present images of catastrophic collapses...
...and promise that we won't provide the same...or scare them to listen to our design know-how.

But of course everyone knows the architects worked the hardest and longest :)

     Although we know how important our role as designers is to YWAM right now...we are all very aware that the best thing that could happen to Uganda is to educate African architects and engineers. Hopefully, one day, trips like these aren't even necessary. That's why we were so excited when Joshua stopped by!

David (architect from England), Shana (architect from California), Joshua, Me, Sarah (architect from England), and Pearly (architect from Hong Kong)

Joshua is a 16 year old Ugandan boy whose mother works for YWAM. She told him that architects were going to be designing new buildings for YWAM and he was so excited! Joshua's mother brought him by on Sunday...and he came back ever day after that! Since the architects were inside on our computers every day we had the least amount of contact with local Ugandans. That's just one of the reasons we were so excited that Joshua kept coming by! He is a lucky kid...not only does he get to go to school...he gets to go to a school that offers drafting classes. He said that because of this class and something that he read once, he wants to be an architect, too. So we put him to work :) 
During the three days Joshua worked with us he proved his awesome drafting and design skills. He drew a building by hand that we ended up using as the proposed staff housing. Then we let him use SketchUp, a computer program that models buildings in 3d. He had never drawn on a computer before and he did such a good job. We encouraged Joshua as much as we could, so that he can add to the couple of hundred registered architects in Uganda (as compared to over 200,000 in America). The team was nice enough to leave him all of the drawing supplies that they could give up, and hopefully he will put them to good use!

I think I've lost everyone again...I'll finish this post another day :)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Few Observations...

Now that I’m over halfway through my time in Uganda, I think it’s about time to blog! I haven’t had much internet access, but some people on the team bought 3G sim cards that allow us to connect to internet occasionally. 

This past week has been quite busy (I use words like “quite” now because over half of our team is from the UK). After a long 18 hours of flight time I made it to our hotel in Kampala at about midnight Uganda time. It was considered luxurious by all local standards...but I expect most Americans would complain if a Best Western had such rusty old showers. When we awoke I saw my first views of Uganda and it was gorgeous! Every window and door in the “guesthouse” was open to the perfect weather, and we could see mountains in the distance! Although the EMI East Africa office was just 10 minutes down the road, we didn’t have time to check out their office because we had to start the 2 hour drive to Jinja, the town where our project is. 

I don’t think I took my eyes away from the window the whole ride because the country was I don’t think that there is any way to explain it...There are just many layers of things going on. Here are a few observations:

  • Nearly every building is painted as an advertisement, the most common being Huggies. 
  • There is a strange juxtaposition between the people and their environment. Ugandans tend to keep themselves extremely clean, dress much nicer than Americans, and mysteriously maintain flawless pressed white pants at times when I am red with dirt from head to toe. They do not seem to maintain any of their buildings, however. Everything is falling apart or built from scraps.
  • They do not mind asking for things. When we stopped for some teammates to go into a shop, the car was instantly surrounded by people either just wanting to talk or ask if we had any food or drink for them to have. I even had a well-to-do Ugandan in the Amsterdam airport ask to borrow some of my water...which I obviously let him keep...
  • Ugandans are event-oriented rather than time-oriented like we are in America. Actually, they just don’t seem to consider time much at all. For example, church was listed to start at 9:00, so the YWAM director said to meet at his house at 10:15.
  • Their equivalent of fast food is stopping on the side of the road at a place where chicken is being cooked on a stick and at least a dozen people reaching their heads and hands inside of your open windows to sell you THEIR chicken on a stick. See picture below and squint because I took it from far away through the window.

This is as much of the chicken I ate, but a man asked if he could have the rest and he ate all of the meat, bones, and even gnawed at the wooden stick!

Our project is going really well. In addition to the initial school and site plan that I came here to work on, YWAM has added a “hospitality centre” to our scope of work. It is meant to be a hotel-like building for visitors to stay in during conferences or retreats on their base. It has been an interesting challenge working with the organization because they have dreams...but not a very specific vision. For example, they began by asking for 300 beds and soon after asked for 1000 difference. But that is the architect’s job! To figure out what it is that the client actually wants and needs, because so many times they don’t actually know. Our aim is to provide them with enough versatility in their buildings that they can be used efficiently no matter the capacity. On Wednesday we will have the final presentation to the client, and finish what we can on Thursday!

Of course there is much more to write, but I assume most people have stopped reading by now so I’ll continue another time :)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Halfway to Africa



How did I only get one hour of sleep between these two? Oh well, another 8+ hours on a plane so I'm bound to get more!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Can't stay away from EMI

Just time with EMI has not ended! At the beginning of June, Brad (remember Brad?) contacted me about coming with the EMIUK team to Uganda and could I refuse?! It may be an 18 hour flight and my entire two weeks of vacation, but what better time than now?

The project that I will be working on this time is a school for Youth With a Mission (YWAM). YWAM is a Christian organization that works in more than 1,100 locations in over 180 countries around the world. They serve in a wide variety of ways, including HIV/AIDS clinics, outpatient clinical services, help for children with disabilities, family and community counseling, guidance in recovering from prostitution, and much more. YWAM has 5 bases in Uganda, but we will be working with Hopeland in Jinja (see their website here). I have included another map in girly patterns, below.

In all, there will be 14 of us traveling to Uganda to design a school for this great organization: 8 engineers, 5 architects, and 1 wife. Although I won't have great internet access in Uganda (i.e. one 3G stick to split between all of us)... I will definitely update the blog when I get home with pictures and details of all I learn and do in Uganda!

Do not watch The Last King of Scotland until I return safely. We made this mistake is violent and scary.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Project Review

Well, my time at eMi has come to a close... I've been avoiding writing a long emotional summary, so for now I'll just update you on the status of our project.

Although we didn't get the reports printed for the Uganda project, it is just about complete! The new spring interns will have to finish up the report and send it out to 60 Feet and it won't be long before it's built!

Below are some pictures of the project trip from someone who actually got to go... (click to enlarge)

 the kids and their existing buildings

percolation tests on our site

 where our bricks will be made!

 Ugandan village

The scope of the project was very big for us to do so quickly so some buildings were developed more than others. The masterplan was arranged so that public and private functions were separated (i.e. the kids' homes were more secluded than the public classrooms and clinic) Below is an aerial view of what our site will be like (with the existing village in white): 

housing for the kids

dining / meeting hall and surrounding classrooms

We've done the plans, but now it's up to 60 feet to raise the funds necessary to have the project built. Please consider supporting this awesome ministry: and