Rwandan Share Houses
By Nina Tory-Henderson
Sharon Davis Design is a New York based practice working globally to expand access to human rights, social justice, economic empowerment and healthy living environments. They work collaboratively across nonprofit, government and private clients, using architectural design to positively change the way people live.
In collaboration with Rwanda Village Enterprise, Sharon Davis Design produced a comprehensive planning document for Rwinkwavu village in regional Rwanda, of which the Share Houses are the first built outcome. The outline for the development of the village includes education and health infrastructure, housing, a community centre, recreational facilities and provides opportunities for economic growth through supporting and promoting local business. The Share Houses, completed in 2015, provide accommodation for visiting medical professionals. It forms a crucial role in the development of the local healthcare system as staff have the ability to stay in close proximity to their work, increasing their capacity to service the community.
The Share Houses are contained in two identical buildings of simple pitched forms. Sited on a gentle slope overlooking Vallée Kibaya, the simple plan elegantly negotiates the slope with two offset rectangular wings sitting on split levels which house the sleeping quarters – 8 to each building. With entrances at either end, shaded outdoor corridors with deep eaves and timber screens provide a private and secluded entrance into each bedroom. Lined neatly in a row, skirting the low stone retaining walls, each bedroom has its own private exterior space with a south-western aspect, boasting views to the valley below.
The two offset, pitched forms of the bedroom wings come together at a large, central common area. Forming the social heart of the building, it contains the kitchen, dining and living areas together under its steeply raked ceiling. Each function is clearly defined by split levels and simple low-level timber joinery and furniture but are porous to one another, creating a generous, open social space where the staff can all be together at once, counterbalancing the seclusion and privacy of the bedroom wings.
The buildings palette relies entirely on regional materials – handmade brickwork (by a nearby women’s cooperative) constitutes most of the buildings structure, local eucalyptus makes up the timber screening shading the outdoor areas, stones for the retaining walls and floors are locally quarried and clay tiles line the ventilated roof. The ochre tones of the material palette sit naturally in the Rwandan landscape of striking red earth and low vegetation.
In response to the harsh climate in Rwinkwavu the building is heavily shaded on all sides with timber screens and deep eaves. The roof is ventilated with a deep cavity between the tiles and ceiling which allows hot air to escape at the ridge and keep internal spaces cool. High level operable windows provide cross-ventilation to all the internal rooms. Spaces are lit during the day with indirect sunlight through shaded window openings, translucent skylights and glass blocks flecked through the brickwork.
Like much of Sharon Davis Design’s work, this project uses itself to provide more than just a new facility for the community. With ninety percent of the labour performed by local residents (with women comprising one third of the staff employed throughout construction), the Share Houses not only provide much needed health infrastructure, but also support and nourish the local economy, provide training and skill development and instill a sense of ownership, pride and care in the community for the development. With modest means, the Share House project gives a lot to the Rwinkwavu village, aptly responding to its social, environmental and economic context.