Partners In Health Rwanda Housing

In Detail News

Bruce Engel / Courtesy Sharon Davis Design

In 2013, Sharon Davis Design (SDD) completed the Women’s Opportunity Center in Kayonza, Rwanda, employing local women to make bricks with an updated technique based on traditional methods. These skills, along with other construction training, became the basis for the local community-built design for SDD’s second project in the region, a pair of “Share Houses” for visiting doctors in nearby Rwinkwavu, built in partnership with Rwanda Village Enterprises for Partners In Health and the Rwandan Ministry of Health.

A neighborhood women’s cooperative handmade the innovative bricks for wall construction, a skill that they acquired on the first SDD project. Women represented a minimum of one third of the staff, and 90 percent of the labor was from the local community, which supported the under-employed area. “Because it was design-build, we used some of our favorite masons and builders from our last project in the area and made them foremen,” said Bruce Engel, SDD’s Lead Designer and Project Manager for Share Houses. “We taught the women to make the bricks when we built the Opportunity Center. It is a business for them now and we wanted to promote them and support them, so they can make their brickmaking co-op get off the ground.”


The architects also worked with local artisans to design the bricks and the process, which is based on a “slop-molding” technique that they use. However, this traditional method has a lot of deformation and cracking. “When we saw that, it was an issue, so we did some research on techniques, and one was called sand-molding, said Engel. “It makes a truer brick, so we tweaked their technique.” These new bricks solved a tectonic problem as well as a structural one. The size of the old brick didn’t have much rhyme or reason and made it tough to do different bonds. Many of the traditional buildings relied on reinforced concrete with brick as infill. SDD eliminated almost all concrete posts and beams by making these bricks load bearing.


The bricks had benefits economically, environmentally, and aesthetically, but they came with challenges. “In the forming of the brickmaking coop, everything revolving around the construction timeline was a challenge,” Engel said. “We taught them how to make the bricks and how to run the business, but it was a challenge getting the bricks on time. The quality of the bricks was good, but we had to build the roof before the walls, to keep the timeline going.”

Learning from their first project in the area, the team decided to do design-build because there were a lot of hands in the constructions phase. They figured it would not be much more work to just do design-build, and it ended up being more
efficient and time-effective for the client.

Brick Production:
Katwico Women’s Brick Co-op
Structural Engineering:
Kayihura Nyundo
Furniture Makers:
Hakizimana Isaie,
Ntirushwamaboko Laurent

The design is based on a set of simple bar buildings that cascade down a hillside. Steps divide the three interior spaces—kitchen, dining, and living—to create separate zones while maintaining one large space. Large overhangs create porches that are blocked from rain while providing shade from the intense sun. A eucalyptus screen gives residents privacy as they move between spaces. The screens and local materials were used for their connection to traditional building techniques.

The foundation and walkways are made from locally quarried stone. Because the bricks are of higher quality, there is no reinforced concrete in the walls. There is rebar through the walls to the steel and wood roof, which is covered in clay tile. These tiles help dampen the noise from the hard rain. Libuyu, a local wood, was used for the furniture, while fixtures were made on site using the masonry lines, a reference to the process of construction.

Partners In Health is one of the largest employers in the region and provides services to 865,000 people at three hospitals and 41 health centers. These Share House dorms will house 16 doctors in the two buildings, which will have a lasting impact not only for the doctors who live there, but also the local community, as they now have the skills to construct their own villages and spur their local economies.

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