In a poor paraphrase of a parable, if you build a school for a village, you can help them educate their students. But if you teach them to build the school, you show them far more. Boston's MASS Design Group, known for championing "lo-fab," or locally fabricated, construction as a change agent and economic catalyst, recently completed a school project in a remote area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that serves as an object lesson in community involvement. The Ilima Primary School's remote location meant that every item utilized in the build needed to be transportable on the back of a motorcycle. That restriction didn't stop MASS, working in concert with the African Wildlife Foundation, from pushing material and design innovation throughout conception and construction.
The school's curved shape, suspended roof and open walls provide an opportunity for rainwater collection, increased airflow and shade from the tropical heat. These sensible adaptions to the local climate were facilitated by material innovations, including mixing palm oil into the mud block walls to strengthen the building and using a local wood instead of palm leaf or sheet metal for the roof, resulting in a more sturdy, rust-proof canopy. And, by employing local laborers throughout construction, the school's creation facilitated a knowledge transfer that may support additional local industry and employment.