17.10.2013 Florian Maier

Women’s Opportunity Centre in Rwanda

On a two-hectare site in Rwanda, the Women’s Opportunity Center is empowering one small community. The designed had been worked out in collaboration with Women for Women International, a humanitarian organization that helps women survivors of war rebuild their lives. The mini-village transforms urban agglomeration and subsistence farming with an architectural agenda to create economic opportunity, rebuild social infrastructure, and restore African heritage.

Architect: Sharon Davis Design
Location: Kayonza, Rwanda
At the streetside market, women sell food, textiles, baskets, and other products produced on site, as well as potable water harvested from the center’s rooftops. Market spaces can be rented to generate additional income, building a self-sufficient community network in Kayonza.
Bricks were made on site by the center’s future users; in crafting the 450,000 clay bricks needed for construction—using materials found on site and a new manual press method we adapted from local techniques – women are learning marketable, income- generating skills. The perforated brick walls allow for passive cooling and solar shading, while maintaining a sense of privacy.
The architects partnered with local enterprises to create water purification, biogas, and other sustainable systems that can be produced and maintained by the inhabitants themselves. In place of the polluting pit latrines typically found in Rwanda we have designed simple, hygienic composting toilets that reduce water use while capturing nitrogen-rich solid and liquid waste. The system naturally produces fertilizer to nourish the farm or be sold as part of the site’s revenue-generating strategies.
The project includes a demonstration farm that helps women produce and market their own goods. Through compact, easily maintained animal pens and classrooms—cooled by green roofs and retained earth walls—women learn farming and processing methods that can be used to run their own food cooperatives profitably.
The Women’s Opportunity Center empowers 300 women annually to transcend a legacy of conflict. As designers, it has empowered us to create an ethic of global collaboration—one that’s rapidly reshaping our practice. In the lives and stories of these women, we have found the locally inspired grounds for a globally resonant architecture of optimism.

The project impressed the judges as a holistic solution socially, economically and environmentally. ‘As a bonus,’ they said, ‘the women who were the end users actually made the bricks.’
The other winners at the 2013 World Architecture Festival
The design revives a lost Rwandan design tradition with deep spatial and social layers. Its circular forms radiate outward, from intimate classrooms at the center of the site to a community space, farmer’s market, and the civic realm beyond.
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