Sustainability is an idea that really only makes sense in context. After 20 years in makeshift refugee camps, Dinka elders had a seemingly simple request: “We want buildings that don’t need to be rebuilt every time it rains.” Sustainability at its most basic: something that will endure.

Building a school is Rebuild Sudan’s inaugural project. The challenge is to accomplish this in a responsible manner. The war destroyed nearly all Southern Sudan’s infrastructure. The roads are impassible during the eight month rainy season. The climate is severe and the village sits on an utterly flat 1000 square mile flood plain. Locally sourced building material is limited to soil (high organic content), sand (4 hour round trip to Bor), small poles, and straw. Rocks and cement are 8 hours and $2000 per delivery from Juba.

The design team first had to admit there likely isn’t a perfect solution. After experimenting with many alternative building techniques, we felt we could not meet the primary request, an all season permanent building, using only local materials. To speed construction, raise the building above the flood plain, and ironically to save transportation expense, a prefabricated steel skeleton will be manufactured in Kampala Uganda and shipped knocked-down to the site. Non-bearing wall panels, protected by large roof overhangs, will be constructed using local wattle and daub techniques stabilized with an admixture of cement and latex.

A deceptively simple design belies the extensive climate and fluid mechanics modeling used to create the most comfortable learning environment possible. Without careful attention paid to building orientation, proper shading, prevailing winds, and window size and placement, a building in this climate can easily and unintentionally become uninhabitable – hotter, darker, and more humid than outside under a tree!

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