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Senegal Elementary School

Weave, Senegal Elementary School, Fabric formed rammed earth, fabric formwork, flood-resilient earth construction technology, earth architecture, sustainable architecture with local materials
Weave, Senegal Elementary School, Fabric formed rammed earth, fabric formwork, flood-resilient earth construction technology, earth architecture, sustainable architecture with local materials

Project Name

Project Team


Project Period

Weave, Senegal Elementary School

Scarlett Lee

Marsassoum, Senegal

2020 Oct - 2021 Mar

Weave, the elementary school is located in the small town of Marsassoum around the Soungrougrou river in Senegal, where the main occupations of the local people are agriculture and fishing. Since the town is situated in a remote area with the closest city of Ziguinchor more than an hour’s drive away, the proposal is based on two significant factors; local materials that are readily available in order to minimise the cost of construction, and simple construction technology that unskilled local labourers can easily learn and reproduce the construction process in the future.


One of the most locally-available materials in Senegal is textiles with distinctive patterns and colours, which represent the identity of each ethnic groups. Soils are also common building materials in the region. Considering the fact that vernacular technology has developed with these local materials, the design and construction of the elementary school was developed to promote the use of local materials and the engagement of local craftsmanship. This proposal not only uses textiles as essential material for earthen construction, but also as functional and aesthetic building material that symbolises the Mandinka people, who are the largest ethnic group in Senegal.


Based on the understanding of the local context, fabric-formed rammed earth construction is proposed because it is easy for low- or semi-skilled labourers to build, and can be constructed using local materials like woven fabric, soil and bamboo. One of great advantages of fabric formed rammed earth is its water-resistant quality. Rammed earth is denser than other earthen construction methods, being built with high compaction. This construction process reduces pores between soil particles where rainwater could penetrate, and moreover, its density further increases with the use of fabric formwork because excess air and water are extracted through the permeable fabric. Therefore, fabric-formed rammed earth is expected to add the structural stability to the school in Marsassoum even during the heavy rainy seasons, while maintaining pleasant humidity level in indoors.


Furthermore, another great quality of fabric formed rammed earth is its aesthetic quality that is added by fabric’s flexibility. As fabric is bulging during the ramming course, bamboo frames are installed to the fabric formwork in order to control the level of the fabric’s bulging, so an undulated form of rammed earth walls is created expressing the innate material quality through the ramming course.


This Senegal elementary school has been carefully designed to maximise children’s educational opportunities from indoors to outdoors, while minimising environmental stress. The existing tree in the middle of the site is incorporated in the design to serve as both an educational hub and a central point for diverse activities.


Since most parents cannot afford to feed their children in the canteen, the eastern side of the site is designed as an integral place for children to self-grow food by learning the whole agricultural process. The proposal includes locating a farm on a plot in the centre of the eastern side between a chicken coop and the canteen. The boundary of the farm is gently curved, leading to the canteen entrance, the low height of which is designed as seating for eating or other activities.   


The classrooms are located in both the north and south sides with doors opening outward to the courtyard. The doors and windows of the classrooms are foldable to facilitate cross-ventilation and enable them to be opened wide for the courtyards to be used for broader educational purposes, if required. The door of each classroom is covered with patterned textiles that represent the children’s ethnic identity, as well as adding a lively element to the school façade in contrast to the monolithic rammed earth walls.


Offices and a library are located adjacent to the western entrance so that the teachers and school manager can monitor who is coming into the school, while the library is a quiet place for reading due to its distance from the active middle and eastern areas. A staired seating area is located next to the library for parents to wait until their children finish class.


Ventilation is regarded as a fundamental element of orientation and design because the local site is very humid during the rainy season. The entrance to the school is located in the middle of the west side so that the tree is clearly visible as a symbol of an educational hub, but also to bring in the prevailing wind from the west to the courtyard.


The mono-pitched roof of the school serves to collect running-down rainwater and cast shade on the courtyard under the roof of the southern building so that the children can actively play and gather to be cool during most of daytime because Marsassoum is mostly hot throughout the year. Excessive heat transmission from the roof to the classrooms is reduced by hanging fabric under the steel truss.


The school is proposed to set a new standard of earthen construction technology, which is simple to build using local resources, but produces advanced water-resistant and aesthetic earthen structure. This proposal exemplifies how earthen buildings can be designed based on moderating or leveraging environmental factors such as sun, wind, and rainfall.


As distinctive patterns of textiles are created by weaving process, the Senegal elementary school is proposed to ‘weave’ a new thread of an advanced earthen construction technology with existing threads of local materials and craftsmanship to reinvigorate the local community by the transmission of technology, placing a high value on the process, not just the result.

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