Off-grid Malawi school built using shipping containers

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The Legson Kayira Community Center and Primary School was completed earlier this year (Photo: Architecture for a change)

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Shipping container-based buildings can suffer – indeed, usually do suffer – from significant insulation issues. But Johannesburg-based firm Architecture for a change (A4AC) recently built a community center and school in Malawi from shipping containers that aims to mitigate this with an open design. The firm also installed rainwater harvesting and solar power to allow the school to operate off-grid.

The Legson Kayira Community Center and Primary School is a simple structure, both inside and out. It measures 380 sq m (4,090 sq ft), and comprises two classrooms, a large central courtyard, and some bleachers. The building is primarily used to teach children, but also serves as an adult training center, weekend market, and community center.

The school was manufactured at A4AC's workshop in South Africa, before being transported to Malawi. During construction, the firm used a number of shipping containers as a basic building material and added a lightweight steel supporting frame and roof. A4AC also removed sections of the containers and installed louvered walls to encourage natural ventilation.

In addition, large sections of the classroom walls can be opened on a hinge in order to turn the interior into a semi-outdoor space, and shade netting helps block out the sun. The roofs are angled to channel rainwater into gutters which then feed water storage tanks. The roofs also sport solar panels which provide power for the interior lighting and a laptop and projector, which is used to show movies and soccer games.

The Legson Kayira Community Center and Primary School was completed earlier this year. In all, on-site construction took just eight weeks.

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