Community Blog

By Carlos Vasquez

NEW YORK, USA, 17 December 2009 – Over the next 40 years, communities across the globe will face challenges that are monumental and interconnected, affecting people in drastic ways never witnessed before. The world population has more than doubled during the past 100 years, and it will reach 9 billion by 2050. Estimates predict that for the first time in human history there will be more urban than rural dwellers, putting increased pressure on existing infrastructure. During the past 50 years, we have consumed more than 50 per cent of the world’s natural resources. What we do today and how we design our next plan of action will determine the impact our organization will have on future generations.

Education has proved to be the most effective vehicle in developing programmes to decrease mortality rates, increase health awareness and empower people to take charge of their destiny. Education has also moved to the forefront in emergency situations to bring a sense of stability to children’s lives and society at large. Child-friendly schools and the field of architecture are leading the way in innovative implementation of educational curricula and in developing structurally sound schools conducive to learning.

To address these shifting challenges, schools must continue to push beyond the academic realm and create a greater socially positive impact. The school of the future will be educational relative to the child’s experience and also to the state of world events. Schools will need to be epicentres for community improvement by providing multi-purpose spaces, thus maximizing their effective net investment value.

This is the time to imagine, design and build the school of a post-carbon society, with sustainable energy systems and educational tools that will enable people to end dependency. These will be schools that reach beyond national borders and encourage education – the most significant cross-border activity.

Carlos Vasquez
Architect
UNICEF, Education Section

Please post your comments and questions below. Carlos is ready to respond to any queries on his work in building safe and child-friendly schools around the world.

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6 Responses to “Community Blog”

  1. Martin Lally says:

    Why continually redesign for each project every aspect of a school, community hall, hospital or other buildings. Would it not be better to base each building on a basic design based on prefabricated building modules? These modules will be basically a set of ‘rooms’ built to a standard design from a set of construction sectors. These sectors would be selected form a standard range of sectors each constructed to meet various requirements of a building such as internal and exterior walls, roofs, windows, doors, partitions etc. To build a school or any other building the architect would simply design the construction based on a range of modules which the architect would design from these construction sectors. The sector modules would be made from the architect’s design and delivered to site in the form of a Kit. These Kits would be designed to be easily constructed by local people who would only need some training and basic guidance. Once a community had built one or more of these fabricated buildings they would be experience and skilled enough to build other buildings without supervision. It would also be easy for them to design their own buildings from these sector construction sets.

    The prefabricated sectors could be made in third world countries by local companies that would be funded by agencies such as UNICEF and other Government and NGO grant schemes as well as by local investors if possible.

    The Kits would also include all the necessary utilities, facilities, equipment, furniture, fittings and fixtures including computer and network systems to enable the school to be connected to the Internet. The architect would simply have to order the right Internet connection equipment (Satellite, WiMAX, Broadband or whatever)

    A basic set of buildings kits could also be readily available for immediate despatch which would be ideal for emergency situations. A range of Kits could be designed for Schools, Hospitals, Rescue Centres, Emergency Shelters, Communication and Command Stations, and Basic Houses. In fact a complete set of buildings that would be required from the initial emergency to the rebuilding of the community, village, town, city etc. could be available (subject to funding that is).

    Martin.

    • Hi Martin
      Thank you for your opinion on the issue of prefabricated structures.
      In our work we recognize that there are many solutions as there are needs and your comments point in one of the many solutions that can be implemented.
      We are working on architectural solutions that address issues that go beyond buildings and text books. Our aim is to develop sustainable systems that communities can use, maintain and learn from, but most importantly, we are developing designs that represent the local cultural characteristics of the communities and the children they serve. The architecture of the school should speak to the particular history and cultural values of the community.
      The idea of delivering “kits” as you stated is a possible solution if you have roads, trucks, helicopters or barges for transportation. However we are working in remote rural communities that lack precisely the infrastructure that one needs to deliver the kits.
      Last week I was inspecting newly constructed schools in the delta of Myanmar where such services do not exist. One of the schools sites did not have clean enough water for construction; as a result the contractor and the community had transport water from 35 miles away, during high tie only, because the creek is to shallow to navigate with such load.
      This is just of many examples of the logistical limitations we face during our implementation that makes very difficult to consider the implementation of prefabricated structures. What you proposed could be done provably in a more urban or peri-urban setting where such systems may be deploy.
      Carlos

  2. Dear Anna
    Thank you for your question and especially for addressing the issue of climate change.
    Unfortunately the developing world will pay and is paying a much higher price in terms of the effects natural disasters that are a direct result of climate change. Much of the changes in climate are a product of decades of pollution caused by activities in the developed or industrialized countries.

    The future school will not only have to resist and respond to stronger natural forces (wind, water, earthquakes, etc) but also act as a shelter when necessary. In the industrial societies people take refuge inside schools and in developing nations children die inside schools. Obviously, something is not working properly.

    Climate change will raise the sea water level; therefore we should establish minimum distances for schools from sea or river shores. We visited a school in Myanmar last year that had to be moved 3 times away from the increasing water level in the delta. Heavy rains can cause landslides and flooding affecting structures, placing children in danger.
    Site selection for new schools must take into consideration such issues to guarantee the safety of students, and existing schools must reassess their situation and location in order to improve conditions.

    Climate change is also a product of deforestation. West Africa has a deforestation rate of 80% and the lowest record on spending for education. The environment and education are 2 of the MDGs that countries are trying to meet. But in terms of school construction, we know that a school for 100 students will required several tons of wood – in which case the school itself will be increasing the problem of deforestation rather than helping to curb the activities. New technologies and construction activities must be studied and put into practice in order to allow schools to be part of the environmental as well as the educational solutions.

  3. Hi Carlos,

    We are already familiar with the environmental challenges that both developing and developed nations will face over the next years. When talking about school construction in areas that are already being affected by climate change and will be affected further, what strategies should communities/governments/countries adopt to make sure their schools are resistant to the environmental change.

    You also mention schools that go beyond national borders. What role do you see for architecture in fostering cross-border schooling?

    Thank you,
    Anya

  4. Dear Malli,

    Thank you for your good questions which will allow me to further explain the importance of schools and architecture within the role of education.

    Child-friendly schools are “created” rather than built. What I mean by this is that we can take an existing school and progressively improve the learning environment to reflect CFS qualities and standards. For example if an existing school has a ratio of 1 toilet/latrine per 50 students (1:50), we can improve children’s lives by providing extra toilets to bring the ratio down to 1:20 which is the standard UNICEF advocates for. The recently published CFS manual (http://www.unicef.org/publications/index_49574.html) can give you a full view of the principles that are the foundation of these learning environments; health, nutrition, pedagogy, water/sanitation, design and construction are some of the underpinning elements necessary to create a healthy learning environment.

    In terms of design features we need to clearly advocate and support the role of architecture when creating “unique” schools that reflect the cultural values and history of the place. So in essence a school in Thailand should not look like a school in Sierra Leone due to that fact that both countries have different cultures, climate conditions, natural resources, etc. Architecture can impact the way lives are lived!

    When designing a school, safety should be at the top of any analysis that will determine the location and type of construction of the school. Building materials and labour force will also impact the outcome and final design. More and more we see that climate change is increasingly affecting the way we build structures and how structures should respond to natural disasters. More specifically classrooms should be well ventilated and provide adequate natural light and proper weather insulation from the elements (rain, snow, heat, etc), enough space for students (1.5 mt2) and above all they must be safe environments. In China’s last earthquake hundreds of children died inside schools because of safety issues and low construction standards.

    The cost of building is a reality that cannot be avoided. The issue is how well the money is spent and how can we maximize the effectiveness of the investment. When we properly analyze the local environment and sun movement, we can make better decisions as to how best to place our schools within the site. For example, too much sun exposure can generate high heat gain, and low sun exposure will create dark interiors. This exercise does not cost any more money or investment other than a few hours of analysis.
    When we compare the schools built in the last 40 years to the upgraded designs, there will be an obvious difference in cost. The problem is that we would not be comparing apples to apples. The real value of the investment is that CFS schools and learning environments go beyond text books by creating a larger social change within the communities they are built in.

  5. Dear Carlos,
    I had the pleasure of attending some of your presentations around school construction at the CFS workshops. I think it would be great if you could first elaborate what it means to build a child-friendly school, what sort of design aspects/features should future schools look at? And if you could give examples, good and bad, that would be extremely informative.
    Perhaps if you could also touch upon how building a CFS is not necessarily more expensive, that may be helpful as well.
    Thanks,
    Malli

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