Studio reCOVER – Gita Primary School Wins The American Institute of Architects Education Honor Award


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2010 AIA Education Honor Awards Program

Studio reCOVER – Gita Primary School

The American Institute of Architects announces the Education Honor Awards to recognize the achievement of individuals who serve the profession as outstanding teachers. The awards celebrate excellence in architecture education as demonstrated in classroom, studio, and/or community work, or in courses offered in various educational settings. All courses, initiatives, or programs completed within the last five years and that have not previously received an AIA Education Honor Award are eligible for consideration.

Anselmo Canfora, Assistant Professor and Director of Initiative recover
University of Virginia School of Architecture

Jeff Ponitz, Lecturer
University of Virginia School of Architecture

George Srour, Executive Director
Building Tomorrow, Inc.

Ewan Smith, Structural Engineer

This requisite undergraduate architectural studio focused on the comprehensive development of a primary school building design for the community of Gita in Uganda. The course was offered during the spring term of 2008 at the University of Virginia School of Architecture, serving as the sixth and final design studio in a pre-professional program resulting in a Bachelor of Science in Architecture degree. The studio was taught by Anselmo Canfora, a full-time assistant professor, with the assistance of a graduate research assistant, Jeff Ponitz, fulfilling roles in project management and instruction. As part of a multi-year partnership with an American non-profit organization working in Uganda, this design studio developed the architectural and landscape design and supporting construction documents for building of the first-ever primary school in the community’s area.

This course presented students with a comprehensive design problem that required the application of technical knowledge from their previous undergraduate coursework in building systems, structures, and building construction. In addition to understanding the needs and desires of the clients and stakeholders, the students had to balance the introduction of their innovative building components with the realistic/available skill sets and indigenous building practices. Since this building was to be constructed by volunteers, a small group of construction workers and members of the community of Gita, the design strategy was influenced to involve lightweight construction and a multi-step execution of smaller tasks (such as a roof consisting of 14 identical roof trusses), eventually assembled into the completed whole.

From pre-schematic design to construction documentation, the studio emphasized individual and group iterative processes informed by rigorous research and interdisciplinary collaboration. The project involved overlapping of individual contribution and small group work in all stages, resulting in a well-rounded collaboration and awareness of the overall design strategy. The collaboration between architecture and engineering students, as well as between the various organizations, was crucial to the success of the project. The building’s performance, aesthetics, construction, and budgetary parameters were developed and maintained in direct collaboration with the nonprofit organization and the beneficiary community.

The design problem balanced a set of lessons learned equally from academic exercises in studio with those to be learned in the field as part of collaborative efforts with community stakeholders. In addition to understanding clients’ needs and balancing design ideas with the realistic terms of the construction, students were taxed to carefully consider how the school’s design could be used as a prototype and inform future primary school buildings to be built by the non-profit organization throughout Uganda’s Wasiko district.

The objectives of the studio and design/build project involve positively affecting the building of safe, healthy, and sustainable communities while focusing the students’ attention on an immediate, real-world, real-time, design problem. Through their participation in this studio, the students gained a set of experiences in service of translational research and comprehensive architectural education. Additionally, the program hopes to inspire advancement of disciplinary research in the areas of building materials, methods, techniques and technologies in architecture. Ultimately, the goals of the studio and program proved mutually beneficial: to raise social consciousness while preparing architecture students with sound, foundational knowledge and skills in the area of building design, construction, and technology.

2010 AIA Education
Honor Awards Jury

Judith Kinnard, FAIA (Chair)
Tulane School of Architecture
New Orleans

Paul D. Mankins, FAIA
Des Moines, Iowa

Brett Roeth
American Institute of
Architecture Students
Washington, D.C.

Monica Ponce de Leon
Office DA, Inc.
Taubman College of
Architecture and Urban
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Mich.

Jury Comments

“This project isn’t just a
theoretical proposal to a global
problem – it’s a real building
with a real effect on local
issues. The students engaged
with community members and
local workers to create a
building of simplistic and
earthly beauty that will have a
lasting positive impact.”

“The final result has an even
greater quality and depth than
the original renderings. The
treatment of the materials
transcends the original intent
of the project.”

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