the cultural hub


architects: cascone + laddaga / CODESIGNLAB

site: douala (cameroon)
date: 2019-2021
client: COE ngo
powered by: aics italian agency for international cooperation, coe ngo for CAMon! 
design team; structural consultant: prof. luciano nunziante; technical assistant: elena ciancio; environmental analysis: federico forestiero; construction team: azate construction with domenico pernici; facade self-construction team: thrésor michel ndasse, danielle kengne, benoit joseph, balla owona, julien mbida, zanga, charlie, landry tamba sohmbe, françois joël siazeu youmbi, guylandry awoumou balla, cédric ongong atouba, francis tiemeni ongong.

 



the accessibility to education and development of creativity represents to us one of the major drivers to improve the life quality of a community from both the social and the environmental points of view. for this reason, we have accepted the proposal of the COE ngo (which is involved in social initiatives in africa since almost 50 years) to design and build the cultural hub of douala in cameroon. at that time, we were already collaborating with them with our african fabbers school sessions, implementing a laboratory of self-construction and digital manufacturing for community-oriented projects in the frame of the CAMon! project supported by the Italian Agency for Cooperation and Development – AICS. such opportunity arrived after more than 10 years of realised projects and applied researches investigating the relations between african indigenous technologies and advanced design approaches towards synthetic vernacular architectures. with this premise, as designers, educators and activists, we have conceived the architectural project as a creative open platform, an urban infrastructure able to provide spaces of production for both educational activities and community-oriented projects.

therefore, as directors of the african fabbers school, we have strategically decided from the very beginning, to develop the project through a collaborative process involving a group of local students and artisans. the continuous dialogue that was established with the local community and with our client has generated a very challenging and articulated design brief that bridges the new building with the structure of an existing refurbished one. this with the aim to generate a system of ventilated and diversified courtyards, connecting a series of spaces open to the neighbourhood such as: the digital manufacturing labs, an exhibition gallery, a co-working area and a cafeteria. the hub is also hosting a school of fine arts (laba- douala) and a guest-house while the outdoor area is organised as a relational space with playgrounds and productive gardens.
for these reasons programmatic and the architectural agenda of such project makes this building unique of its kind in africa and beyond.

 

 

     

the design strategy of the building has been informed by a series of environmental analysis and simulations in order to respond to the very extreme climatic conditions (hot-humid) of douala. this with the aim to reduce the energy consumption providing thermal comfort to both the outdoor and indoor spaces maximising the passive cooling ventilation. therefore, taking inspiration from the local informal and vernacular architectures, the central courtyard is conceived as an open-air and overshadowed room reducing the surfaces exposed to the direct sun radiation during the hottest hours of the day. the issues of affordability and circular economy have driven our strategy on materials and construction systems connecting the concrete primary structure with the local wood secondary structures. the wooden ventilated façade in local padouk has been realized with our local students experimenting new digital manufacturing protocols with natural materials available onsite. at the same time the roof is taking inspiration from the informal metal sheet dwellings with the aim to improving the environmental performances in terms of cross-ventilation and rainy water collection. as we consider the question of self-sufficiency in architecture crucial, especially in africa, we have also integrated into the roof a photovoltaic system in order to reduce the dependency from the unreliable energy grid. the final result of the whole design to build process is an “open work” that could be potentially evolved and upgraded directly by the users that have collaborated during the construction process. beyond any humanitarian rhetoric, we strongly believe that a decolonisation of architectural knowledge is necessary  to reconsider the social role of designers towards climate sensitive and community oriented architectures.

the project will be displayed at the next venice biennale of architecture in the african fabbers school installation realized in the frame of the italian pavilion.

    


photo credits: CODESIGNLAB, francis tiemeni ongong, dione roach

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