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Localworks - Pragmatic Idealists

11 of January '24

The article is from A&B issue 9|23

"Let's stick to simplicity and humanity, let's not be fundamentalists and let's not stop dreaming. Architects and builders can - and will - play their part in saving this planet," - Felix Holland, co-founder of the Localworks collective, says in an interview.

We are living in a time of disruptive, irreversible climate change. Do we as architects still have a say in shaping the future (and present) of our planet? For a long time, the dominant narrative has been that in today's world, advanced technologies and modern solutions in general can be the answer to all challenges. But are they really? Do these advanced technologies have a chance to solve problems, especially in countries with underdeveloped infrastructure?

In Uganda, Localworks shows that simplicity, pragmatism and local community involvement can be the answer to many problems. Felix Holland, co-founder and key figure in the Localworks collective, calls it green simplicity. It's about adapting projects to local conditions, using local resources as much as possible and involving not only clients but also local communities in the design process.

dużym problemem są obfite i nagłe opady deszczu; szeroki nawis dachu, kamienne wykończenie czy wazony - budynek jest na to gotowy

A big problem is heavy and sudden rainfall; a wide roof overhang, stone trim or vases - the building is ready for it

photo: author


In February this year, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Felix Holland at his studio in Kampala. The pretext was a visit to the Mustardseed school in nearby Sentemie, designed by the studio. The studio has a collective character, with Holland as its frontman. Born in Germany, he moved to Uganda in 2004. In 2013, he founded his own studio, Studio FH. This one evolved into Localworks, based on close collaboration with local expert practitioners. Now a multidisciplinary studio, the team includes architects, engineers, craftsmen or builders. This collaboration enables seamless integration of design and construction, ensuring precision and full control over the project. Such integration stems, as usual with this office, from pragmatism - there are simply no construction companies in Uganda capable of unconventional projects. At the same time, it allows them to experiment with building materials. Just see the studio, which looks like a big workshop, with various mockups made of bricks, bamboo or earth.

simplicity as a design philosophy

For Holland, sustainability and social impact mean truly using a contextual and adaptive design philosophy. "For us, ecology is extremely important, and our understanding of it is basic and fundamental, it shapes everything we do - where we place the building, how we shape and orient it, how we relate to the landform, views and vegetation, what materials we use, how we ventilate the building and how we protect it from rain. In our opinion, this is much more effective than using advanced design technologies to solve problems that could have been avoided at the beginning of the project." - Holland says in an interview.

Localworks focuses on using local materials with low CO₂ emissions. Of interest is the aspect of Uganda's main building material - burnt earth. This is a traditional building technique in Uganda, but it is very unenvironmental: wood used for burning is one of the main causes of deforestation in the country. Localworks, however, does not exclude this material, it experiments and promotes the use of earth as a building material, demonstrating its sustainability and sustainability when properly thought out. This approach not only reduces environmental impact, but also - importantly with Uganda's high unemployment - supports the local economy. As Holland mentions, "We want to build as much as possible with local materials. And we want to dispel the narrative that many people here use: that everything local is bad and poor."

dziedziniec szkoly Mustardseed; centralna i wydzielona przestrzeń dla młodszych klas - socjalne serce

Mustardseed school courtyard; a central and separate space for younger grades - the social heart of the

photo: author

"sharing is caring"/sharing is caring

Many modern technologies are simply not available in Uganda, or they are not green. That's why the Localworks team is focused on researching and exploring such solutions that are based on low technology, or that are available and effective in Uganda. One of the eco-friendly items popularized by the collective is the biodigester, or wastewater treatment system. "Biodigesters, in a natural process, not only purify organic waste, but also produce gas and wonderful fertilizers that can be used in agriculture," - Holland explains.

Localworks focuses on research and exploration of such solutions. Felix explains that their studio is based on four pillars: "Research, Design, Build and Share." As he says, "The last one emphasizes that we see ourselves as more than a commercial practice, because we want to share the knowledge we learn in our daily practice with the wider community." Localworks has created a culture of learning and development. This commitment to knowledge sharing is also evident in the "Localtalks" series of events, where public meetings are held to address ecological design issues in Uganda.

jedna z klas, ze specjalnie zaprojektowanymi modułowymi meblami

One of the classrooms, with specially designed modular furniture

photo: author

"pragmatic idealists"

Localworks' groundbreaking project is Mustardseed Junior School in Sentema. It is a kindergarten and elementary school - a manifesto of the studio's philosophy. When we visited the Mustardseed school, I experienced what long ago in an interview the founder of Amsterdam-based NL Architects called the "Wow! What? Wow!" effect.
The project is not only the studio's manifesto, it is also an educational project in itself, showing how we can help the environment. The studio claims that all materials used in its construction are locally sourced. What is fascinating is the pragmatism of these materials, and at the same time the high architectural quality of the spaces created. Because no two classrooms are the same at Mustardseed Junior School, the students change their learning environment, moving from one to another. This was achieved by using earth-filled bags to create walls that, freed from the orthogonal grid, can be formed in an organic way. "The choice of earth bags for the walls prompted us to create arches to playfully avoid the need for supports," Holland said.

wszystkie klasy są naturalnie oświetlone i naturalnie wentylowane; uwagę zwraca dylatacja między ścianami i dachem

All classrooms are naturally lit and naturally ventilated; note the expansion joint between the walls and roof

Photo credit: Author

The exterior walls end below the roof, leaving openings that let in natural light and fresh air. The walls are finished in a natural lime-earth mortar with a pigment chosen by Localworks from several that were developed to match the color of the surroundings.

Locally sourced sandstone slate covers the lower parts of the exterior walls, protecting them from water. The biggest climatic problem, aside from very high temperatures and humidity, is heavy rain storms, and water bouncing off the lower parts of the walls can simply damage them.

nie ma dwóch takich samych klas w szkole; w każdej znajdują się nisze, w których uczniowie mogą odpocząć

No two classrooms in the school are the same; each has niches where students can rest

Photo: author

The roof structure is made of eucalyptus trees that were cut down at the site to make room for the construction of the school. At the same time, the school has purchased a nearby farm, which it is gradually reforesting with local plant species, which is also part of their educational program. Narrow openings in the roof structure let natural light into the classrooms, and its underside is finished with woven mats to diffuse the strong sunlight.

The school's foundation was built with sandstone from a quarry less than two kilometers away from the construction site.

Visiting the school felt like a big house; students and teachers very quickly adapted the classrooms to their needs. The classrooms offer a great deal of "serendipitous" space: one classroom has a small outdoor amphitheater, so sometimes lessons are held "on the other side." Another classroom, meanwhile, has a small room behind the blackboard that has been adapted into a lounge space. There are ubiquitous niches into which children can hide. Everything seemed quite random to me at first. But after extended conversations with the foundation that runs the school, I know that it was all consciously planned and is part of their educational program.

przy salach dla młodszych klas znajdują się łatwo dostępne przestrzenie do leżakowania

There are easily accessible recliner spaces next to the rooms for the younger grades

Photo credit: Author

learn from Uganda

The Localworks collective can safely be called a pioneer of green architecture in Uganda. Through their commitment, pragmatism, use of local resources and community involvement, they are shaping an alternative form of building practice. The studio perfectly illustrates how architects can contribute to slow but conscious change by adopting context-specific solutions. As Holland emphasizes in an interview, "We are not trying to find answers for the whole world, but we would be very happy if we could find them for Uganda."

pleciony przez lokalnych rzemieślników dach jednocześnie chroni od słońca i delikatnie przepuszcza oświetlenie do wnętrza sal

The roof, woven by local artisans, simultaneously protects from the sun and gently lets light into the rooms

Photo credit: Author


Photo: Author

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