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Obituary: Nathan Jones (1985 – 2013)

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Nathan Jones, although not yet qualified, will be remembered as a prolific community architect

If what he produced in the first two years of his architectural career is anything to go by, Nathan would have had a significant impact on the built environment and the lives of local communities.

At the time of his death, Nathan, 27, was working in Africa as a volunteer design fellow for the charity, Architecture for Humanity.

He was supporting the Football for Hope program in partnership with streetfootballworld and FIFA to build the Besongabang Football for Hope Centre, in Cameroon. But it was there that Nathan caught malaria and later died from the disease.

My friendship with Nathan began while studying the part two architecture course together at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Wales. He had a passion and enthusiasm for life and architecture.

Nathan wanted to touch people with his work – and in just a few short years he created a legacy of projects which are a tribute to his drive, commitment and altruistic nature.

After graduating from CAT, Nathan travelled to Gambia. It was there that he worked on the first purpose-built theatre in the country.

The Ebunjan Theatre was built using compressed stabilised earth blocks, which were made from earth dug from the site. The project features a 16m diameter dome at its centre; the largest unsupported earth brick dome in West Africa. The theatre is open at the apex to allow light in and natural ventilation through a stack effect. Nathan helped to construct this dome, and pictures taken on the site show how he immersed himself in the construction of the scheme.

A fellow classmate at CAT, who also worked on the theatre in Gambia, Tom Brand said: ‘He helped with the implementation and logistics of building that massive engineering accomplishment. Accuracy was imperative, as previous to this we had only attempted up to 8m diameter domes. We knew it was possible, but Nathan helped to make it a reality.’

He went on to work on the football community centre in Cameroon – a scheme backed by the Football for Hope movement which aims to use football to help developing nations attain UN Millennium Development Goals. The project promotes football as a uniting tool to achieve health, peace, anti-discrimination, social integration, children’s rights, education and sustainability.

The project, based in the Cameroon jungle, was in mid-construction when Nathan died of complications arising from malaria. He designed the centre around the philosophy ‘long life, low energy, and loose fit’, aiming for the building to be adapted by the local community long after he had left.

Nathan wanted to bring architecture to the local community, in a way which was accessible for them. He was always able to speak to people on their level, and always wanted to understand those that he was designing for, making sure that they understood and had an involvement in the whole design and construction process. To Nathan it didn’t matter what the project was, whether it was his final year project - a community housing scheme and brewery in Stalybridge Manchester - or the work which he was carrying out in Africa, he gave everything he worked on the same attention.

Nathan’s passion, dedication and enthusiasm will live on through the architecture which he has created. His buildings, although simple, touch and enhance the communities in which they are built. His legacy will continue through this.

Architecture for Humanity has set up a memorial fund in Nathan’s name, which will help to continue the work which he began.

Nathan’s funeral service will be held on 5 April at St Marys Church, Bushbury Lane, Wolverhampton.

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