In the latter part of 2016 Rebecca was invited by the Peter Stutchbury Foundation to join Peter and his partner Fernanda on their inaugural trip to the north of Brazil to design and construct an extension to a children’s day-care centre.
The project was located in a village in the outskirts of Salvador, which was the first city in Brazil settled by the Portuguese over 500 years ago – creating a rich backdrop of culture and built environment in which to situate the new community building.
Over the course of two weeks the project was initiated, designed and constructed, with the help of two students Will and Joseph from the University of Newcastle, local labourers from the community and facilitated by local physiotherapist and social worker Flavia. Funding came in part from the University of Newcastle which donated money for the construction materials.
The basis for the design was around the catchment and reuse of rainwater for washing the children attending the day-care centre. Though there is high rainfall in most parts of Brazil it is uncommon to collect and re-use this, with many Brazilians instead forced to pay high prices for use of the town water. So a part of the design process was intended to educate the community on the ease and benefit of rainwater harvesting.
Conditions were tough as the heat was extreme and materials were difficult to source and procure – as a result the design changed multiple times throughout the build to meet various constraints, but the outcome was one that the design team and the community were extremely proud of in the end.
This project was intended as the first project in a series of many for this community – with the idea that this will become a showcase village demonstrating innovative but low-tech construction methods and ecological initiatives.
In projects such as these it is vital ownership of the project is created and that the whole community is part of the design process – particularly the children who are the ‘end users’ of the space. In this instance mosaic work on one of the walls was a great inclusive activity facilitated by Rebecca but created by the children, teachers and mothers – with children searching their homes to find old tiles that could be used – the result is beautiful.
Another community-based part of the project was demonstrating how to make an attractive low-cost clay render from locally sourced materials. The richly coloured local clay was used along with sand and Dende palm leaves for fibre. A paint was also made from this clay – durable, beautiful and practically free.
Traditional techniques like these are important to demonstrate as their value decreases in the modern-day desire for concrete-based or synthetic products; it is vital to maintain these techniques so they are not lost forever – what could be better than using local materials, and made by the community.
This building project was a richly rewarding experience, with many new friends made and a big impact made in this small community – the memories of which will last a lifetime. The power of good design!