THE PROJECT

The building

The building complex will consist of several building units, covering an area of almost two hectares. It will be composed of four blocks, grouped according to thematic priorities. A first block is marked as the “working zone”. It will consist of eight units: the first four will have rooms for food transformation, beverage production, bread bakery and a storage room. The remaining four will host rooms for  handicrafts (metal and woodworking), tailoring and hairdressing. The second block represents the “educational zone” and will consist of eight units: school classes for about 80 people, for basic and middle school classes, further education courses as well as art lessons. The last block can be described as a “collective and cultural zone”, it will consist of three units that will house a room for meeting and discussions, a small open-air theatre, a small library and a computer room. In a separate building, there will be a final unit with guest rooms for potential visitors and foreign teachers.

Since the community defines itself as “strongly connected to their own traditions and to its own territory”, the inflow of its traditional spatial organization plays a central role in the planning. For this reason, the building units will be grouped around a centre marked by a sacred tree. This symbolically laden centre will serve as a meeting point for the members of the community (which is usually located under large shade-spreading trees).
In order to create shaded and pleasant spaces, the entire complex will be covered by a pentagon-shaped roof, which recalls the traditional forms of the roof constructions in the village and re-interpret them in a modern language. Diverse spaces will be created between the building units. These should be used for various recreational activities: play and reading corners, resting and meditation zones as well as small gardens. The complex will work as a symbol at the village´s entrance, it will welcome visitors and serve as an identification building for the whole community.

In order to avoid any private character, the structure will be accessible from all sides, creating a flowing continuum by opening perspectives from inside and outside. The strong relationship of the community to “Mother Earth” plays a central role in the design of the building. In accordance with this relationship, and in a symbolic connection to the present social situation, the individual building units are planned in such a way that they look like doughy earth slugs, which harmoniously alternate. In the spaces between the buildings, massive girders will grow out of the ground. They will hold the earth’s lumps together and they will be strongly anchored to the soil like cotton-tree roots. The bearers will run steeply in a dramatic gesture and open upwards. They will, on the one hand, symbolize the strong rootedness to the earth and the cohesion to the land, and on the other hand, they will act as open hands towards the sky through the outlined form at the top, seeking and welcoming the natural element Water. The pentagonal roof form stands as a symbol of human microcosm (t. i. a central point in the project) and it represents the five elements, which are supposed to embody a healthy balance between the human and the natural life: the water, the fire, the earth, the air and the Spiritual quintessence. Also the selection of the colours in the building is based on the traditional local ones.

The choice of the materials will be of fundamental importance, they are intended to reduce the construction costs: The foundations and the roof beams will be made of steel and reinforced concrete, while the building units and the roof will be made of recycled materials and of materials from the surrounding environment (i.e. clay, straw, millet, wood, etc.). In terms of ecological construction, it will be essential to generate electricity partly from solid biomass (manure and dung manure) and partly from solar collectors and wind turbines in order to avoid dependency from the electricity networks. Rainwater collection systems will serve to collect rainwater during the rainy season into large cisterns. They will be used to cover some of the water needs for the structure (distributed throughout the year). The used water (referred to as “grey water”) will then be rendered usable again for land irrigation, through the biologically natural method of “phytodepuration”. Additionally, the system will be furnished with dry toilet evacuations as response to the problem of sewer connection.

Methodology

The empowerment of the local community begins with the designing of its own home. The building complex should be created with its participation and exclusively under its guidance. The community is involved in the development process from the start (from the planning stage to the design and construction of the building plan) and will accompany and determine it over the entire period of construction.

This approach is better known as “participatory placemaking” and can be defined as “the process of creating quality places that people want to live, play and learn in” (Mark A. Wyckoff, Professor MSU Land Policy Institute). The project is divided into several stages: During an initial phase, the architect / anthropologist Elettra Griesi and the artist Lamine Faye organized four field research stays (December 2014, March 2016, July 2016, December 2016). During the visits, they carried on participant observations, brainstormings, meetings, interviews and workshops with children, women and men from different age groups. The aim was to explore their needs and desires and to analyse their understanding and meaning of the space, their use of building materials and colours, their everyday practices, their traditions and social organization.

In addition, they established contacts with local authorities and with local construction companies in order to set costs and realization time and to obtain construction´s permits. During a second phase (May-June 2017), a team of local and foreign architects and architecture´s students selected eight adults from the village and involve them in a workshop in order to provide them with technical knowledge on the brick production and construction of the facilities. At the end of the workshop, they should teach other members of the community the building techniques they have learned. The third and last stage will consist in the edification of the structure.

In order to reduce the overall costs, there will be used recycling and naturally occurring materials from the immediate environment and the construction of the building will take place with the participation of the whole community (the population from Thailame as well as from the surrounding villages) will participate to the construction of the building: men (and, if necessary, women) will take care of the construction work, women will be involved in the search for materials, while the children will undertake design activities for the adornment of the building after its completion. This process intends to lead to a higher identification with the building while offering the inhabitants the opportunity to learn a new job.

Sustainability

The construction of the complex Dithalaki proves to be sustainable in many respects. Since the project is going to be built solely according to the wishes and needs of the community and only through diffuse and continuous participation of its members to its construction, the edifice will create a high degree of collective social identification, an element this last, that ensures a lasting sustainability. From an economic point of view, the project is proving to be sustainable by creating work and education opportunities for the member of the community and opening them new perspectives. In addition, thanks to the choice of environmentally friendly component and ecological construction, the project proves to be sustainable and environmentally friendly. Last but not least, its sustainability will be supported by the maintenance of connections with various NGOs: after completion of the construction process. Various projects are going to be carried on for the further development of the community involving different kinds of institutions such as Universities, vocational schools and NGOs. These will be supervised by the local and foreign NGOs and coordinated by the grounders of the NGO “Diappal Gaayi – Building Community Roots”.