Kamanar Secondary School
Tionck Essil, Senegal

Thionck Essyl is a town of uninsulated cement blockwork houses with small openings and steel roofs, where life is largely lived outdoors. Its first secondary school having become overcrowded, this additional 500-capacity school was the product of an initiative by members of Barcelona architectural firm dawoffice, who set up a charitable foundation for the purpose and worked pro bono. Its programme was agreed upon through consultation with the local community and the existing school’s managers, and a 16-hectare site was provided by the Municipality. 

The 19 classrooms, administrative block, girls’ and boys’ sanitary blocks, crafts room and performance hall are arranged on a flexible grid system, facilitating future expansion. Oriented to hinder sunshine and optimise wind capture, classroom modules are in groups of four around outdoor spaces, each accommodating one school year and benefiting from the shade of mostly pre-existing trees.

For passive climatic comfort and echoing the rural architecture of the Jola people found in surrounding areas, the architects chose mud as the primary material. This was excavated on site, the extraction zone being used to create a sports field with recessed, stepped seating. The modules’ catenary vault form is not a vernacular reference but stemmed directly from the decision to use clay bricks, which only perform structurally when under compression. 

All other materials, plus the construction workforce, were likewise locally sourced. The vaults are protected from rain by metal sheeting supported on a wooden structure produced in a specially established carpentry workshop that also crafted the school’s furniture and continues as a self-sustaining business. Wooden lattices, with netting above to allow light in but keep birds out, cover the side facades. Terrazzo flooring and detailing is made from broken ceramic tile fragments.

The site’s gentle slope is taken advantage of: each class group square is terraced and connected with channels that direct rainwater to a cistern, from where it is pumped to the sanitary facilities or to irrigate the site’s trees – including new citrus trees planted to boost the school’s income through fruit sales. 

A lively, contemporary expression that revisits age-old building methods, the school has become the pride of the region.

Source: Aga Khan Trust for Culture

Tionck Essil, Senegal
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Occupancy 2020
Site area: 16,750 m²; Ground floor area: 1,900 m²
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