How we won that competition? | The Kaira Looro Competition

In this article, we continue our series on Competitions.archi, presenting a collection of articles on different architectural competitions. Today, we will be featuring the winners of The Kaira Looro Competition.

The primary objective of this series is to delve into the design process behind each winning project. We are eager to learn from architects and designers about their journey to victory in these competitions. How did they secure their win? We are curious to explore their creative path, from the initial concept and early blueprints to the final comprehensive plan. Additionally, we want to understand the choices they had to make along the way, including the solutions they discarded. Most importantly, we aim to uncover the grand idea behind each project. To achieve this, we will request sketches, drafts, and detailed descriptions, enabling us to fully grasp their techniques and the processes that led to their award-winning designs.

This article forms part of the Architecture Competitions Yearbook 2022, where you can find more captivating stories and inspiring projects similar to the one highlighted below.

The “Kaira Looro” international architecture competition, held by humanitarian organisation Balouo Salo, has this year also, established itself as one of the most important in the field of humanitarian and development design, attracting students and young architects from all over the world. The objective of this edition was to select a humanitarian architecture aimed at hosting activities to combat child malnutrition in an area of Sub-Saharan Africa and donate the entire proceeds to charity. The project proposals were selected by a panel of internationally renowned architects and firms. Adequate child nutrition is the basis for survival and psycho-physical development. Wellnourished individuals can grow properly, learn and participate in social life. However, today, at least one in three children under the age of five suffers from malnutrition in one of its most visible forms. Globally, about 149 million children under the age of five suffer from stunting,
the first visible form of malnutrition. They are too short for their age and their brains are at risk of not developing to their full cognitive potential, thus hindering their ability to learn as children, earn as adults and contribute to community development. Wasting affects 45 million children, who have weakened immune systems and are at risk of death. Finally, almost 39 million children are overweight as a result of changing global food systems.

In light of these considerations, the 2022 edition of the Kaira Looro international architecture competition was held, with the aim of selecting an architectural model of a ‘Children’s House’ to be built in Africa with the proceeds of the competition (entirely donated) to tackle the phenomenon of child malnutrition, as well as to raise the international community’s awareness of humanitarian issues in developing countries and to support the charity projects promoted by humanitarian organization Balouo Salo.
The architecture requested in the call for entries, was a 250 square metre space intended to combat child malnutrition through the provision of nutritional material, the development of health and hygiene awareness programmes, the provision of paediatric and social care visits, accommodation for those at risk and the training of community nurses, who will be able to advise families on good prevention and nutrition practices. The project area is in southern Senegal where Balouo Salo has been working since 2014 with the implementation of a number of infrastructure projects to facilitate accessibility to drinking water, schooling and to promote sustainability and human rights. This is one of the least developed areas of the country: poverty affects around 90% of the population; sanitary conditions are among the worst nationwide and only 8% of the population has access to purified water; 70% of the population lives in dwellings with no access to electricity. These conditions directly affect children. It is estimated that 1 in 3 children is at risk of malnutrition, and the region’s child malnutrition and mortality rates are the highest in the country.

Project name: Clhildren’s House
Author: Ziyu Guo from China

Before participation
The competition objective of Kaira Looro 2022 is to design a children’s house that aims to prevent children malnutrition, as well as to provide a warm and welcoming place for the village. Children malnutrition is a serious issue that troubles human society. We need to realize that it is more than an instant problem for children today—
it will consequentially cause much greater damage to a society, undermine the determination of developing countries, because children are the potential owners, leaders, builders and defenders of the future. Therefore, the theme carries more importance than architecture itself to me.

Also I’ve been interested in the possibilities of low-cost and vernacular buildings in contemporary context. For architecture working as social infrastructure, functions and indexes are considered in first priority. Is there still any chance for some exploration of better space, material, and publicity in these buildings that allow most basic needs? The competition is a good opportunity for me to think about a new prototype of social infrastructures that could be achieved and generalized.

On context and site
I start the project with researching the context. The project area is located in a village called Baghere in South Senegal. It has a very typical tropical monsoon climate, with extremely high temperature and humidity during the wet season, warm and arid during the dry season. Such climate will greatly influence the architectural intervention I’m going to take, and also the appropriate materials to use. The best way to understand a place is definitely paying a visit, so you can feel the uniqueness of place with all your senses. Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to visit Senegal, or other sub-saharan countries so far, so I have to imagine, to study the place using all resources I have. It is also useful for me to relate to similar experiences, like my visit in South India, which has a similar climate.

The Tanaff Valley of Sedhiou region where Baghere village lies is one of the least developed areas in the country, due to lack of resources and infrastructure, and heavy effect of agriculture from climate changes. The 97% poverty rate here suggests the reason why children malnutrition becomes an important problem here. It is hard for local people to organize and build new infrastructures on their own cost, they really need support from external resources. Poor economic condition also constrains available technologies and materials for the project.

The site sits on the east side of a road leading towards north of the village. It is basically a flat plot surrounded by local mango and acacia trees. The soil is ferruginoussandy, thus it brings a naturally red tone.

On the first glance, this seems to be an ordinary site without much to be characterized. However looking deeper I noticed a big contrast of area size between overall site and required building floor area, which is 8400 m2 vs 250 m2. A normal 250-volume of single floor put amid the site seems lonely and reclusive, leaving the rest of the site vacant. How to deal with the scheme so that it coherently establishes a dialogue between the empty site and small building becomes a good point to kick-off thinking.

Consequently, the relationship between building and the road becomes my next point to consider. Since the children’s house is conceived to be a warm and welcoming place for the village, I don’t think the building should be isolated away from the road, the form and façade should neither be reclusive.

Then I made my third point of thinking on the site: since there’s already luxuriant landscape features around, both in the foreground
and background, it’s not necessary to create an internal concentration of views in the scheme of the building. I would rather try to guide people’s view outwards, looking into the beautiful senegalese landscape. These are the points I’ve decided based on my reading of the site, before any specific study of building schemes.

Materials and structures
The competition has a construction cost limit of €30,000 for materials and encourages use of natural or local materials which are available nearby, or easy to transport. Selection of materials in this design is both a limitation and a propulsion. As I have not visited the site, the major way I use to understand local building tectonics is through research and reference. There’s a pervasive and traditional use of earth materials in senegal as well as other African countries. In the photos of Baghere village provided, I also found a wide use of corrugated metal sheet in roofs for local buildings, which I assume is because of its easiness in installation and durability compared to traditional thatched roof. After that, I looked for references of African architect’s works, as well as vernacular architecture from other countries. The result coincides with my earlier findings, earth materials with corrugated metal roof proved a feasible and well-practiced system, which was applied in many recent building projects in africa of similar scale. The brief asks for an easy self-build system with unqualified staff, volunteers, and without need of heavy machinery. In response to this point, I consider use wood or bamboo for the structural frame. Bamboo was mentioned in the material list provided. I made it the final choice since it required less carpentry work in building frames, and it is a fast-regrown material, which means causing less damage to local ecology.

Laterite earth will be self-sustained from the village, it establishes a deeper conversation with the ferruginous-sandy soil of the site. Its massiveness and roughness add to a heavy and strong vernacular materiality. In contrast, the corrugated metal roof is light and slim, it is an expression of modernity adapted to local context. Bamboo beams, columns and lattices form an elegant transition between the solid rammed earth wall to metal sheet roof, which is grown from the earth and light in its presence, perfectly reconciled the heavy and light extremes of the materials.

First I start to research, study, and imagine what a house for malnutrition children means for them. I was inspired by a line by 8th century chinese poet du fu: “if ever I can manage to get a wide and generous roof thousands of fathoms wide, shelters all the poor who suffered poverty and bring back their happiness.” As depicted in the words, the building here becomes an ideal signification of shelter for all the who suffer from disadvantages. We tend to assume that people who require caring or nursing are dependent to those who give them help, but it is not neglectable that they are individuals who have their own will. They are independent in characters and dignified individuals, who have the undeniable right to live in a space
with dignity.

Similarly, for children who suffered from malnutrition ever since they were born, their sensitiveness is unneglectable in nursing and caring, and spaces with a sense of sheltering and intimacy is what must be considered in the design. However, the goal of building the children’s house is to let them regain health, being able to return to a positive and community life. Therefore, open and sharing spaces where they can actively communicate, recreate, and regain healthy mentalities are also necessary. In summary, my concept for children’s house is to create multiple layers of open/intimate spaces based on the duality of malnutrition children’s mentalities, unified and sheltered by a greater realm.

Programs and initial ideas
For me personally, I start to think about program configurations at a very early stage of the design process. It’s a habit from my own working experience, and it also gives me a brief understanding of the scale and constraints of possible schemes. The children’s house is a relatively small building with simple and straight-forward program requirements. Basically, its programs could be divided into three main groups: hospitality, public, and service and management. It suggests a simple tri-lateral relationship, and the unchangeable rule is that public space and children’s hospitality space need to be connected.

Based on the fundamental principles, I then tested a few layouts with rough sketches. In the earliest sketches, I arranged the three program groups in linear layouts, as my initiative intuition tells me the sequence should be in a linear order: all visitors enter from an entrance vestibule connected to the management and support programs, which is helpful for security monitoring, then the sequence proceeds with public/recreational space and finally hospitality. The spatial sequence is a direct reflection of the progressive narrative of privacy. Later my ideas started to shift in sketches. I realized the entrance is not necessary to bound with the management group, so long as the entrance is within staff’s view. A semi-outdoor space shared by management and public groups was introduced, and it was kept in most of later options. Subsequent sketch explorations of options based on shared semi-outdoor entrance.

Development of ideas
Then the exploration of possibilities went into a hard time for me. I’ve drawn out half of a sketch book and tested in 3d modeling of various options, however they were not convincing enough for me in expression of the concept. Design is very often a back-and-forth process, sometimes one can retreat to a point forfeited long ago. Some should-have-abandoned directions started to haunt back in my studies unconsciously. Ideas went too divergent at this moment, I decided to stop for a while, step back to early conclusions i made when researching the site and concept. I noticed that I’ve gradually neglected the proposed aspect of publicity, the dialogue between the building and context. The study process was progressed deeper and deeper within a self-enclosed system of building itself, regardless of the surroundings which it should have interactions with.

Once jumped out of this trap, a naturally derived idea quickly came to my mind. The building requires something to build connections with the village, to create a public space shared by village residents and building users. A curved wall will initiate the sequence with a clear orientation, at the same time it defines a sense of public place for people to gather or stay on its front side, covers and leading the direction to a separate service entrance. Other walls will be set rigorously to a grid, clearly announcing a simple order and rhythm, in contrast with the curved wall.

Open spaces like playgrounds, gardens and courtyards are beneficial for children. In response to the other point I’ve drawn from site studies, which is leading views outwards to the surrounding landscape, i decided to put those outdoor spaces side of the building volume, rather than make a concentrated realm in the middle. There are hints of two garden spaces, defined by walls in either semicircle or free-curve shapes, as shown in a few sketch iterations. To emphasis on the entrance orientation, I think a gentle cut to the roof will strengthen the welcoming gesture and create a more dynamic form of the building. The momentum announced by the cutting diagonal line on the roof further inspires me, that it wants to continue until touching the ground, result with part of the roof becoming a terrace for the public. I was quickly convinced by this idea since it adds another level of openness and sharing between the building and the village.

Choosing what to be expressed in the final board is an important process that requires careful consideration. In addition, the submission requirement of Kaira Looro allows for only one A1 board, which is very condensed, and means the selection of deliverables must be more precise and accurate.

Plans and sections are necessary drawings to be included. For the children’s house project, I think the floor plan is the most important drawing to illustrate my concept of openness vs. Enclosure. Therefore I allowed a major space on the board for the plan, spent much time on this drawing, adding details and carefully adjusting the linework for better graphic hierarchy of reading. Although a site plan of wider area is included, I decided to zoom out a bit in the floor plan, so that the village road, public space, and surrounding trees can be better shown. A close spatial conversation with village surroundings is what makes this project unique, thus they must be included in the plan to best demonstrate the idea.

I took two section drawings to illustrate how the views are leading outwards rather than concentrated inwards. The sections cut through children’s garden and the semi-circle mini garden, showing their difference in typology and outdoor-indoor experience. Because construction together with material plays an important role
in the whole project, I think a detail section drawing in bigger scale will be crucial for clearly demonstration of the system. Normally I’m a big fan of axonometric drawings. However the board canvas is extremely tight for complex drawings. I gave a few tries on how axonometric or explosion drawings look like on the board, the result was not ideal. The design is not complicated, but rather simple and selfexplanatory, adding axonometric drawing is not beneficial making things more clearly, so eventually I abandoned this idea.

Renders are powerful tools in conveying the overall atmosphere perception of a design. I strongly agree with a point I’ve heard before, that all graphics in architecture are essentially diagrams. We certainly understand renderings are artistic expressions and simulations of a space, but the fact that they are also narrative medias that carries information is less remembered. In order to tell a comprehensive story of the project with renderings, I first made a list of what views I need to include in the deliverables, together with what story I want to tell with each image. These include the space of depiction, view angles, composition, overall atmosphere, lighting condition, program, activity, construction, etc. At the beginning I listed all the ones I deemed possible, and then I made a comparison one by one, deleting those unnecessary or less clear in the overall narrative. The elimination went for two rounds, until I picked the essential images list needed for a comprehensive expression. At last, visual hierarchy of images are also important for the reading of project. Make sure the major image that best tells the whole story is in a dominant presence, regardless of it’s a render, drawing, model image, or anything else.

Thoughts and acknowledgements
For me, participating in this competition is an opportunity to think something out of job with a more personal approach towards design ideas. Clear and efficient time management is extremely important, especially when you have other work to do in job or school. I’m glad about winning the prize, yet winning itself isn’t everything. Being lucky or unlucky is a normal state of up-anddown cycle for people working with architecture career or participating in contests. We need to take it easy on the results and enjoy the process of every project, so that we can keep the momentum to move on with a longer-term passion with architecture.

Finally, although this is a personal entry, there were so many people who offered generous help with their sharp eyes examining the design or advice in hard decisions. Much obliged to all of them, and I’m also grateful to the competition committee and the whole jury for their selection. Also many thanks to Marcin Husarz from competitions.archi who has giving me the opportunity to summarize and write this article, thank you for reading!

Author: Ziyu Guo from China

If you would like to ready more case studies like the one above please check our annual publication – Architecture Competitions Yearbook. This book is perfect for you if you want to know:

  • Whats the secret behind winning submissions?
  • What makes a good project?
  • How to create an innovative solution to the given problem?

…and much more.

Date: July 4, 2023