Situated in remote Senegal, the new Fass School and Teachers’ Residence is the first school in a region of over 110 villages to provide secular education alongside traditional Quranic teaching. A project completed in collaboration with the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and Le Korsa, the school can serve up to 300 students from ages 5 through 10. Inspired by the ‘One Room Schoolhouse’ in rural America where Josef Albers once taught, the school’s design can accommodate students of different age groups and at diverse stages of development. In the design, four classrooms and two flex spaces are arranged around an interior courtyard. The oval shape provides for easy circulation between classrooms, allowing the school’s few teachers to move quickly between classes. The variation of the perimeter walls in terms of height and proximity to one another creates a multitude of sectional experiences throughout the building. In designing the school, TMA sought to improve upon the existing government-approved school typology for this region of Senegal, which consists of a room made of concrete blocks topped with a corrugated metal roof. When it rains, the sound of the rain falling on the corrugated metal is loud enough to prevent lessons from being heard. TMA’s design introduces passive cooling principles that provide a comfortable learning environment and ensures that lessons can be heard year-round. Without the use of any mechanical cooling, the interior of the school can be up to twenty degrees cooler than the outside environment. Additionally, the building borrows its shape from vernacular precedents, and local and traditional skills and materials were used in its construction. Mud brick walls were painted white to deflect heat and perforated to allow for ventilation and airflow throughout the building. A steel perimeter beam and spanning bamboo members encircling the structural walls define the geometry of the roof. An inversion of the traditional pitched roof, the thick thatch roof reinforces climatic comfort by providing an effective insulation against extreme heat. A stacked effect allows hot air to rise into the peak of the roof while inviting cool air into the spaces. With a roof pitch always 45 degrees or more, the unique roof also maximizes rainwater runoff, diverting water into a channel that encircles the building and empties toward an existing aquifer. The Fass School was designed to quickly integrate into the cultural fabric of the remote Senegalese community through the use of vernacular materials and construction techniques. Toshiko Mori Architect’s choice to use traditional building materials such as mud bricks, thatch, and bamboo is not only environmentally conscious, but also roots the building in its site. The design of the school draws upon the impluvium-style family homes endemic to this region of Senegal, which arrange individual rooms in a ring around a central courtyard. TMA’s design adapts this vernacular for a different programmatic need and much larger scale. The design is therefore immediately familiar to Fass residents and an iconic topographic addition to the flat steppe landscape. In its mission to establish the first elementary school for the region at the confluence of multiple villages, the Fass School brings different ethnic groups under the same roof to assemble for the common goal of learning. As such, the school operates as a site of experimentation for local educators and a model that could be imported to other regions of Senegal in the future. The choice to build the school using a local construction team and locally-available materials ensured that the school can be repaired and renovated by Fass residents in the future, allowing the community to take full ownership of the structure.
Toshiko Mori Architect is known for four decades of innovative and influential work in a diverse body of award-winning projects. Our intelligent approach to ecologically-sensitive siting strategies, historical context, and the innovative use of materials reflects a creative integration of design and technology. The work of TMA combines a strong conceptual and theoretical approach with a thorough study of programmatic needs and practical conditions. Together, we achieve designs that are spatially compelling, responsive, and humanistic.
We have experience working with a broad range of programs including urban, civic, institutional, cultural, residential, museum, and exhibition design. Recent work includes Phase I of a master plan for the Brooklyn Public Library Central Branch, the Fass School and Teachers’ Residences in Senegal, an expansion to the Brown University Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, and 277 Mott Street, a ground-up commercial space in Manhattan.