Patient Architecture

Imagine a town the size of New Haven without access to a single book. In desperate need of educational resources, the village of Bawaleshie-Kpone survives this scenario. Teaming with the non-profit Ghana Free Community Libraries, the village has looked to eradicate this problem by asking Bernheimer Architecture to design a new library/community center.

Located at the foothills of the Kwahu Plateau in southeast Ghana, this community center/library makes use of a diverse ecological landscape while giving agency to a small village to construct a building that unfolds over time. In its ultimate version it is imagined as small, medium, and large rooms for books, reading, teaching, civil meeting, and for film—only some of which necessitate environmental security.

Rural Ghanaian villages have a history of building with the soil, whether it be by ramming earth into place or molding, baking, and stacking mud bricks. However, as a result of modernity and its latent thirst for standardization, concrete masonry unit construction has replaced skilled, regional, indigenous labor practices. Instead, this project looks to uncover the wisdom of the land and its people. Just as the library lends intellectual resources to the community by way of books, so too does building the library (re)educate the community of a lost construction technique.

The result is a building that makes itself over time, much like a mollusk producing its home shell from its surrounding minerals. Soil is gathered from a nearby failed development, happily becoming a purple and peach-colored quarry of soils. Rammed into place with simple labor techniques, the wall becomes a poetic organizing of space. Its presence is always felt. If the earthen wall grows out of the ground to plan the building, so too does the bamboo grow to structure the building. Used in many ways, the bamboo moves from finished surface, to roof joist, to entry screen.

This process is not a hindrance, however, it is an opportunity to practice a slow and patient architecture. Developing countries build entire towns with the future as its promise. However, this project rejects forfeiting the present for an often unfulfilled future. Each phase of this developing building uses a part of the future construction for the present inhabitants. The base of future walls become seating children watching sports. The footprints of future wings of the community center lend themselves to bamboo nurseries. The bamboo nurseries then feed the building with ceiling joists and interior wall finishes. In this way, the inherent efficiencies aren’t just pragmatic; they are aspirational.

Currently in bidding and negotiations.