Helping hand

UAE students have designed an innovative school project for Cameroon


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It goes without saying that Ngoketunjia, in northern Cameroon, is a place with very different challenges to the United Arab Emirates.

Despite being built next to a hydro-electric dam, Umbissa Island has no electricity, as the power is transferred to Douala, Cameroon’s largest city. The island’s population live in the shadow of a dam on their land, but useless to them.

But Umbissa Island has become an unlikely destination for a group of UAE architecture students, who have designed a school to be built for the local children. The team won a recent competition by Open Source Arc and AUD International Aid (AIA), which challenged young architects to design a sustainable building using the limited resources available to them in the mountains of northern Cameroon.

The design workshop took place at Shelter Gallery in Al Quoz, Dubai, at the end of May, bringing together architecture students from several UAE universities and high profile architectural firms such as Atkins, RMJM and Hopkins.

“It was an opportunity for students of the UAE to work together and use their knowledge and skills to design for children in a deprived region of our planet,” said George Katodrytis, an organizer of the event and professor at the American University of Sharjah.

“The participants challenged their consciousness and ethical values. A large group of practicing architects joined this effort as well with equal enthusiasm. The dynamics and outcome of this event were beyond our expectations.”

The students were asked to design four classrooms of approximately 9x7 meters each, specifying that the designs needed to address directly social and economic needs as well as environmental and functional requirements in a region that has access to limited resources.

The wining team – made up of Aezad Muzaffar, Wasib Mahmood, Naji Muneer, Enayat Ghaedi, Petra Matar and Saeid Khezri – designed a series of learning spaces arranged along a wall with staccato breaks in its structure. The team conceived of the walls as being a space from which knowledge and information can ‘leak’ into the classrooms extending from it.

“The experience of designing for the welfare of a wider global community, was a unique opportunity. Coming from an academic background that focuses on innovative sustainable design, this project helped us apply our knowledge to resolve real-life challenges,” said Aezad Muzaffar, a member of the winning team.

Petra Matar, another student-winner, added: “It takes such a simple project to prove that the challenge in architecture is not making fancy structures but making something that is simple, beautiful.”

The team admitted that they struggled with constructability issues, as coming up with a suitable design was only the first part of the process – they knew that on the ground, the skills of the workers, contractors and engineers may be limited.
Sareh Ameri-Mills, from the AIA, commended all the teams that took part for their efforts.

“The participants worked incredibly hard over the course of about 48 hours to produce some exceptional and unique designs. Watching their collaborative effort was very inspiring for us.”

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