What made them win the architecture competition? – Kaira Looro 2021 Awarded Submissions Analysis

‘ What made them win the architecture competition? ‘ is a series of articles dedicated to the best entries in architecture challenges launched recently. We would like to showcase and explain what made the awarded submission extraordinary and how their authors achieved the outstanding effect. We are going to present the complete analysis of the representing ideas, graphical expression and text description – as we believe that those three elements are the key to the victory in every architecture competition.

We will start this series with the best submission of Kaira Looro Competition 2021. The text will be explaining how Juan Pablo Lopez Isabella from Uruguay convinced the jury panel to award him with the first prize.

About Kaira Looro Competition 2021

Kaira Looro is one of the most important international architecture competitions for students and young architects, focusing on the themes of humanitarian architecture for emergencies and development. Kaira Looro was established also the objectives of raising awareness in the international scientific community regarding the topics of humanitarian architecture, while at the same time raising funds for the development of humanitarian projects to which the entire proceeds (registration fee) of the competition are donated. The event is organized by the Balouo Salo humanitarian organization which operates in Africa and focuses on charitable projects which provide support to disadvantaged communities.  The objective of this year’s edition of the Kaira Looro international architecture competition was to design a women’s house created to promote gender equality as a determining factor for development in rural Africa. Participants from all over the world submitted their architectural proposals, based on innovative and sustainable design and destined to accommodate awareness-raising activities and training initiatives aimed at developing the village, in the name of equality. The winner was selected by an international jury, awarded with the money prize and an internship at Kengo Kuma & Associates as well as might be involved in the construction process.


On May 20th the organization announced the 30 winning projects, which include 1st place, 2nd place, 3rd place, 2 honourable mentions nominated by the president of the jury, Kengo Kuma, and by the Balouo Salo Organization, 5 special mentions, and 20 finalists.

Women’s House design by Juan Pablo Lopez Isabella

The design was inspired by traditional houses characteristic for the primitives cultures, what is visible from the first sight. After analyzing the vernacular building techniques, available materials and especially impluvium houses with their origin in Senegal, the author started his own interpretation of circular shapes and sphere forms. Exploring the plan we can see the play of concave and convex surfaces, which have symbolic meaning.

Author explains ‘The empowerment of women is interpreted in the project taking into account these two qualities [like convex and concave], which seem to be opposite, but I would say that are complementary and coexist harmoniously. The architecture is inspired on the one hand, with the sweetness, goodness and delicacy that women radiates, towards their children, among her peers, and on the other hand, with the tenacity and strength with which they go out to work the land, and carry out household tasks. The spaces were conceived open and flexible, to give rise to scenes of reunion, ritual and celebration, where you can make a round, hold hands, feel the strong bond between the prodigious nature that surround.’

His project shows a deep understanding of sociocultural issue that women in Africa have to face every day. The design is flexible and allows to arrange the space in many different ways. The editable character of the building might be the answer to the future needs that will change within years. The Women’s House is a safe place, where women could feel free and cared, where they can build a community. They can spend time under a huge, protecting roof. The design supposed to be a manifesto of gender equality. The members of the community will raise in a good quality, healthy and sustainable building.

The author was very inspired by local culture and tradition of building with earth and sand. He was trying to use in his design available on the site materials. ‘Advantage was taken from the laterite earth, exclusive of the place, which gives the walls and pavement a terracotta pigmentation, which irradiates warmth. A thick veil of bamboo is woven into the roof defined by a grid of local wood, reminiscent of the village fences.” – says Juan Pablo Lopez Isabella.

Graphical expression

When we look at the presentation board we see that its layout is not typical. We can find there horizontal and vertical divisions that make the panel organized and simple in its complexity. To submit the work in Kaira Looro 2020, the author supposed to prepare only single A1 panel, which must have explained the concept, correlation with the surrounding, atmosphere of the design as well as construction. That is way we see a lot of fulfilled rectangular fields. Nevertheless, all of them are necessary to understand the design unreservedly. The board is a composition that collects colored perspectives and only black and white linear drawings.

All 3d and 2d materials are well developed on a very high graphical level. The site plan shows the relation between the proposed building and the surrounding. Enhanced by the black rectangle, the building is visible firstly. It is easy to read the drawing, because it all necessary information that should be given in this scale are included. We can identify how users can get to the women’s house, what type of rural structure is this and the density of the plants as well.

The floor plan shows the arrangement of the space and explains how the users can move among and around the building, emphasizing the huge variety of arrangement possibilities. It seems that the contact with nature was very important aspect during designing process. Following the plan we can see how interior is opening to the exterior and how the outside world is trying to reach the indoor space. There are also a section showcasing the humans scale of the project, elevation and the detail explaining the construction and finishing system used in the design.

Perspectives and frames were carefully selected to show the most characteristic elements of the design. All together emphasize the calm, homely atmosphere of the place. It was possible thanks to the use of dirt colors (dirty blue, green), colors of earth, sand and ochre. The place seems to be peaceful and safe because of the muted and soft tones. We can see many different types of framing, starting from long 1-point perspective showing the main elevation of the building and the limited surrounding. The entrance of the building is underlined by the deep shadow. There is also very popular recently type of visualization in format of standing rectangular, where the bottom part seem to be heavy in contradiction to the light top.

Text description

The text is placed in a frame made by white divisions. Thanks to this action, it is readable as a block – a valid part of the whole architecture project board composition. But even if it is place in the box, the description is unique.

‘In the villages of Southern Senegal architecture is closer to earth. Fences are made of sticks, dwellings predominantly made of straw and adobe, are the setting for a simple and sensitive life whose existence is immersed in a prodigious nature. Above this tropical landscape, framed by the Tannaf Valley and dotted by the presence of robust and tenacious local trees, lies the Women´s House. Located in the village of Baghére, on the plot of land attached to the local municipality in front of the road, with a flat and sandy terrain, with acacia and mango trees in the background, an enclosure is planned to hold awareness, training activities, and promote the growth of the region under the sign of equality. Establishing a dialogue with the site, a slender piece of laterite earth stands firmly on the ground, offering a meeting place for the African women.’

The text is like a tale about the safe place, where every woman can feel important, protected and cared. Reading the description we can almost feel the atmosphere of the place. We can imagine ourselves walking around, doing different activities and experiencing many emotions inside. Together with the 3D drawings it presents a story about the building – the asylum for the women in need.


Interview with Juan Pablo Lopez Isabella
Kaira Looro Competitions website



If you would like see all awarded submissions in Kaira Looro Competitions 2021, click on the banner below.


Date: September 29, 2021