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Orkidstudio unveils West African girls' school

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Orkidstudio has completed this £90,000 community school in Kenema, Sierra Leone 


Construction began on the 1,000mschool two years ago but the project stalled just four weeks from completion when the first case of the Ebola virus hit the Sierra Leone region.

Around 70 men and women from the local community were employed in the building’s construction.

The school, which is run by the Swawou Foundation, aims to provide education to 120 young girls from the local area.

According to the architect ‘the building was voted the ‘best school in Sierra Leone’ on a national radio station before it even had a roof on’.

Swawou Girls School by Orkidstudio

Swawou Girls School by Orkidstudio

Architect’s view

The number of recorded deaths exceeded 11,000 across West Africa before the region was declared Ebola-free. What role can architecture play in the aftermath of such a crisis? Architects have often found a clear cause for intervention when faced with natural or manmade disasters, helping rebuild fallen towns and cities or offering up solutions to populations displaced and without shelter. However, when the disaster itself is formless, an invisible threat of devastating proportions, is there any role at all that architecture can play?

The Ebola epidemic may not have torn down buildings or left people without a home, yet the extent of social and economic reconciliation that it has left in its wake is vast. In January 2016 work resumed on the school building which had become badly overgrown with weeds and long grasses. Following many new challenges and difficulties, a building that had stood neglected and forlorn for two years now stands proud and gleaming in the West African sun. It’s a long way ahead to get this wonderful country fully back on its feet and striding forwards, and further still to transforming its global image, however, in this case a new building has opened its doors to a cohort of excited young students, offering new jobs to the local community, and might just stand for something far more than the materials it’s built from.

Swawou Girls School by Orkidstudio

Swawou Girls School by Orkidstudio

Project manager’s view

The experience was one of the most rewarding of my career so far. Thrown in at the deep end, the project strengthened my management, communication and people skills. It’s a difficult country to get things done in a hurry, and the whole experience of working in a different country, culture and political atmosphere has been hugely beneficial to my architectural education. Teaching, training and educating locals in how to work with the local earth blocks to create an interesting and tidy bond pattern, not just a base on which to plaster over, was the highlight. The masons were so proud of their work, it provided the chance for people to see the skilled work they produce rather than having it go unrecognised, hidden under render. The building is a celebration of their skills. Having locals on site strengthened the community’s pride and protection of the building - it is more than just a building, it’s a shelter, a meeting place, and a representation of their hard work, resilience and beauty.

Kirsty Cassels

Swawou Girls School by Orkidstudio

Swawou Girls School by Orkidstudio

Project data 

Architect Orkidstudio
Location Kenema, Sierra Leone
Client The Swawou Foundation
Structural engineer StructureMode
Construction period January 2014 – April 2016
Floor area 1,000m2
Total cost £90,000
Cost/m2 £90/m2
Main contractor Orkidstudio

Swawou Girls School by Orkidstudio

Swawou Girls School by Orkidstudio

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