SELGASCANO BUILD A MULTI-USE CENTER IN KENYA
The name of Madrid-based architects SelgasCano has been on everyone’s lips since their Serpentine Pavilion commission. Over the course of their career, José Selgas and Lucía Cano, who founded their practice in 1998, have produced a playful and inventive series of buildings in which they always try to do more with less — in part by using inexpensive materials, such as plastics instead of glass — and in which color and translucency play major roles.
One project that reveals all the potential of their philosophy is the dispensary and nutritional-education center they built last year in Turkana County, Kenya. Peopled by nomadic herders, this is a region of extreme aridity, where temperatures can reach 50°C in the hottest season. Despite its dryness, Turkana is nonetheless rife with malaria — when the rains do come, mosquitos proliferate. Moreover, there are fears that a humanitarian crisis will soon overtake Turkana due to prolonged dry spells in recent years.
Approached by the Missionary Community of St. Paul the Apostle to create the dispensary, SelgasCano decided to make the project the focus of the unit they were teaching at MIT. As they explained to PIN–UP, they felt that a lot of potentially useful student brainpower was expended on virtual projects, and that here was a chance to channel all that mental effort into something concrete, not to mention providing the students with an unrivaled opportunity to learn on the job. In Boston, the group researched the possibility of using local materials: adobe from the Turkana earth, wood from the local acacia trees, twigs to weave fences. But conditions in the field soon woke them up to the harsh reality: woven fencing would require constant maintenance, while structural wood and adobe would be devoured by termites in a matter of days. What was needed was cheap, hardwearing, readily available materials that could easily be assembled by the unskilled locals. Whence the no-nonsense vocabulary of scaffolding poles, cinder blocks, and corrugated iron.
These have been arranged into a curved composition that responds to the acacia trees on the site and provides a place for people to sit out of the sun, channeling air currents for cooling. Next to it is a circular pen in local stone where tribespeople can leave their goats. Out of almost nothing, a highly practical and astonishingly photogenic building has been created, painted by locals in the architects’ trademark vivid hues. To celebrate completion of the center, the team bought an enormous camel — considered the ultimate delicacy by the Turkana people — which was turned into a feast for them and the whole community.