Chipakata Children’s Academy: Designed to make a difference

 

The Chipakata Children’s Academy is a new primary school in Zambia, Africa built as the first initiative of the 14+ Foundation, a New York City-based non-profit organisation established by Joseph Mizzi and Nchimunya Wulf. The design for the school has realized the Foundation’s mission to develop, build and operate schools and orphanages in rural African communities.

I first heard about this inspiring project during a New York City reunion with a friend from architecture school, Fabian Bedolla who worked on the project as design architect and also managed it’s on site construction. His fervent passion for the the project inspired me to investigate further. Randy Antonia Lott, also a fellow Cornellian and member of the design team has been involved with the project on many levels and has facilitated the sourcing of information for this article. In the coming months we will continue to feature micro narratives from the team that worked on the project and very closely with the community and the children it serves to educate.

While 14+ has many meanings to its founders, in short 14+ represents a commitment to inspire positive lives in children and young adults in Africa through its projects and programs in order to reach their full potential. The Chipakata Children’s Academy serves 180 children of the Chipakata Village community and each student is provided a free education including books and uniforms. Full-time housing is provided for its teachers, who are employed directly by 14+ Foundation along with other administrative and maintenance staff.

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The site in Chipakata Village is approximately 100 kilometers east of Lusaka, Zambia’s largest city. Situated on level topography with views to the surrounding hills east and west, the project defines a sense of place and community for the Village. Locating the school within the Village has dramatically reduced the distance the children must walk to school each day. Prior to the school opening, the children of this community had to walk more than 14 km (close to 9 miles) each day back and forth from the nearest available school.

The Academy provides a comprehensive primary school education, grades 1-7, for children in seven villages in and around the Chipakata Village community. The first phase of the project, which opened in January 2015, includes a classroom building, community pavilion, administrative office and teachers’ housing. Nearby, agricultural fields dedicated to generating food and income support the operation of the school and ensure long-term economic sustainability for the project. Local village residents were key participants throughout the development and construction process.

Referencing regional school planning typologies, the design of the classroom structure transforms the standard model to create a new paradigm. The design provides for ten teaching and learning spaces compared to the four rooms found in the typical prototype. This is achieved by breaking down the monolithic volume of the typical classroom bar building and introducing open space for collaborative activity between classrooms.

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Additionally, elevating the roof canopy above the masonry base allows for an upper level accessible by stair, with open-air spaces directly above each of the four classrooms. Informed by the local climate and solar conditions, the window openings and roof canopy are configured to maximize daylight within the classrooms. Clerestory windows are integrated into all the classrooms with a continuous roof overhang serving to protect spaces on both levels from harsh solar gain during the summer months. Adjacent to the classroom building is a community gathering space — a triangular shaped structure — providing shelter from the sun and rain and a flexible space for eating, gathering and community celebrations.

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The construction of the buildings is based on a modular approach to both the masonry units of the classrooms and the repetitive structure of the roof canopy. All materials were locally procured and assembled on-site. The textural quality of the unitized masonry construction is expressed in the screen walls that enclose the stairs at both ends of the building.

The project has been a collaboration of Design Principals who provided pro- bono design services: Susan Rodriguez, FAIA, Ennead Architects; Frank Lupo, FAIA; Randy Antonia Lott and Nat Oppenheimer, Silman, Structural Engineers. Hiroko Nakatani, through Ennead Lab, was also a member of the team. Fabian Bedolla served as the architect and construction manager responsible for managing the project on site throughout the construction period as well as a member of the design team.

Photography: Rob Duker, Fabian Bedolla, Gord Ray and Joseph Mizzi

 

The 14+ Foundation and its initiatives are centered on the following core beliefs: empowering children through education; volunteerism and working with others to realize common goals; achieving a meaningful engagement with the communities it serves; the importance of arts-based education; and that quality design can inspire and make a difference. The organization is currently expanding Chipakata Children’s Academy, as well as developing its second project, Mwabwindo School in Mwabwindo Village, Zambia.

More information on the organisation and its projects can be found on the 14+ Foundation website

 

 

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