The Batwa, one of the oldest tribes in Africa, originally resided in the Ugandan, Rwandan and Congo rain-forests where they practiced hunting and gathering as their main source of livelihood. However, after their eviction from the forest by the government in the 1990s, they were left landless and eventually thrust into abject poverty. Seeing their plight, the Volcanoes Safari partnership trust donated 10 acres of land that has now become the new home for over 100 people. The Trust in conjunction with the guests of the nearby Mount Gahinga lodge donated all the materials utilized during construction while the Ugandan-based architecture firm, Studio FH architects provided free designs and supervision services.
The village comprises of 18 houses that were built for and by the Gahinga based Batwa people. Each house measures 20 sqm and the floor plans vary slightly given the fact that they are all based on a model house that was built by the locals themselves using bent branches covered with dried grass.
Each home has a tiny common room, small bedrooms and a covered veranda for cooking. Locally available materials were greatly utilized during the construction of the units; stones collected on the site were used to build the rubble stone foundations, the walls were made of eucalyptus poles with a bamboo grid, finished with earth plaster and the roofs are made of metal sheets covered with a papyrus layer above.
The settlement layout plan was not drawn instead the placement of the houses was done ‘on the go’ by the builders. The locals were encouraged to respond to the immediate site environs i.e to avoid placing the verandahs on the side facing the strong winds coming from the volcanoes, to keep the houses tightly spaced for wind protection and to maximize on the available land for farming. This random approach has resulted in the creation of an interesting pattern that will eventually lead to the formation of comfortable public spaces and niches.
Provision of proper sanitation was of key importance to the locals as this was a major issue in their former settlement. Therefore, two small buildings accommodating the latrines were built into the slopes of a ravine on one side of the village.
A new community centre, whose design inspiration was the traditional forest dwelling of the Batwa, was also put up near the main access into the site. The 100 sqm, dome-shaped structure is a multi-purpose space that is meant to be used for public gatherings.
The walls and ceiling are made of eucalyptus poles painted with recycled engine oil and finished with grass mats. Galvanized metal sheets covered with papyrus were used for roofing whereas the doors and windows were made of translucent sheets. Additionally, the community centre has a floor to ceiling height of 6m and two large doors that can be swung upwards to increase the size and flexibility of the space.
Architects: Studio FH Architects
Client: Volcanoes Safari Partnership Trust
Location: Gahinga, Uganda
Area: 480 sqm
Project Year: 2018
Photography: Will Bouse Photography, Craig howes.