In late June, we attended the launch of the Women’s Opportunity Center in Kayonza, Rwanda.
Constructed with the support of Women for Women International (WfWI) and other donors, the center will train the region’s women in financial literacy, business, agribusiness, and life skills. WfWI has given support to over 56,000 women in Rwanda since 1997.
The facility was designed by the American firm Sharon Davis Design. Particular attention was given to using local building materials and installing eco-friendly technology.
The buildings and walls around the center were constructed with 450,000 beautiful handmade bricks — each one stamped with the logo of WfWI. They were pressed by a co-op of WfWI training graduates from clay dug in an adjacent valley.
The plan above is from the Sharon Davis Design brochure. You may want to click on the photo to see a larger version.
The brochure explains some of the design concept:
To keep the scale and quality of the center’s spaces intimate and diverse, the organization of traditional Rwandan residences and villages became the inspiration for organizing and dispersing the many program elements across the 1-hectare* plot. A series of human-scaled pavilions are clustered around the center of the site. . . . The circular nature of many of the interior spaces is also in response to WfWI’s approach of teaching in the round.
During the ceremony, Sharon Davis explained that her team wanted to create a particularly reassuring design for women who might be shy about entering this type of public place. WOC expects 200-300 women to participate in various activities every day.
The center includes domitory lodging — in the tent above — for students and visitors. All toilets on site are composting toilets, which will produce fertilizer for use in the center’s farm and for sale in its market.
Rainchains direct all the runoff from the buildings to two buried 40,000 liter cisterns. This collection is expected to meet all the water needs of the site.
The bonding pattern and curves of the buildings’ brick walls eliminate the need for concrete columns and beams.
The workshop buildings have no doors or ceilings, and the open pattern lets in diffuse natural light and air.
Inside the workshop rooms, students sit on two levels of benches. (I don’t think the chair is meant to stay.) The floor tiles were made by WfWI graduates in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The recently planted landscaping consists of simple rounded shapes of turf grass and ground cover plants.
I don’t know how they will handle the large center area labeled as ‘Gathering Space’ on the plan above (there was a large tent there on the launch day). They may leave it flat for event tents or build a circle of benches similar to the workshop interiors.
Below are photos of the area labeled ‘Farm’ on the plan. It was being partly used for parking that day, but I hope it will eventually be filled by raised-bed vegetable gardens like these.
Just below, you can see the rainwater cisterns and the partly underground ‘Farm House,’ which I was told will be used for storage.
The center hopes to be financially independent from the WfWI in five years. It will rent training and event space to partner organizations and market, retail, and storage spaces to local small businesses. It will also offer lodging and restaurant services for visitors and travelers.
You can see more photos of WOC by Sharon Davis Design here.