The project for the construction of these two new classes consisted on an expansion of the first Al Khan Al Ahmar primary school project, four years after the first buildings. Substituting an old shade structure inside the school compound, in a Bedouin camp close to Jerusalem, the geographic and politic context remain not very conducive for any new construction. Thus it was important to think the project as cheaper and easier as possible.
For this new phase, the aim was to build the new spaces for the community needs without increasing the volume of the existing buildings. Into the boundary of the school there was a building made of simple metal sheets used for lessons before the construction of the tyres ‘school. The two classrooms have then been built in the place of this pre-existing structure.
The extension of Al Khan Al Ahmar primary school was promoted by Vento di Terra NGO, and founded by UN-OCHA (United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs).
The Bedouin community of Khan al Ahmar is a part of Al Jahalin Tribe, one of the biggest refugee tribe in the West Bank today, with more than 2700 people yet dispatched in 31 different areas. Natives from the Tel Arad district of what today is the Negev desert, they were expelled from their original lands and took refuge in the West Bank after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. This context makes life very difficult, particularly for the weakest inhabitants of these villages in the desert: children. The parents can't no more convey their traditional Bedouin nomadic culture, and further there are no proper public facilities for health or education in most of their camps.
Jahalin Bedouins are settled in the desert area in the North of National Route n.1, which links Jerusalem and Jericho. The area is of great strategic interest for Israeli Government, as it divides the West Bank in separated areas and crosses passages between Hebron and Jerusalem; it is classified as a C area, which is a part of the Palestinian territory under an administrative and military control by the Israeli Authorities. There, the Bedouins are subjected to many prohibitions in particular to build permanent structures. The children’s situation is extremely critical particularly for their un-respected right to education and their bad health conditions due to the poor hygienic environment and the lack of primary medical assistance.
Three years after the construction of the school of tyres the community asked for new spaces in order to include more grades of students. Some children, due to their age, were not covered by the education in the nearby area and they were obliged to find a way to go every day 30 km outside of the camp on their own, distance to go to the nearest Palestinian village.
The technique of straw bales walls chosen, mainly for its ease of implementation and the proximity of fields from the site. The technique was experimented first in a workshop to be improved for the local needs and to produce then explanations manuals for the manpower of the place. However, the technics were readapted on-site because of too little compact straw, putting wooden frames to hold better the bales and compressing the straw with straps.
The existing concrete floor was used as a base layer for the new construction. Over this base, a level of earth-bags was used to ensure a good protection of the straw from the humidity and water. The bags were produce on Gaza strip while the earth is coming directly from the place. The building site was then covered with a shelter made of a simple metal sheet that after the building was finished remained to form a double layer of the roof for ventilation.
In all, 150 straw balls and 21m2 of earth-bags have been used for this second phase, for a total cost of 35.000 $ including also 206m2 of lime and clay plastering, 80m2 of sandwich roof panels, 50 m2 of wooden pavement, 158 m2 of Metal Sheet and a metal structure of 12 pillars and 13 beams.
The two classrooms had been built in a period of one month, during which, temporary structures were raised in the courtyard of the school in order to not interrupt the lessons during the duration of the works.
The choice of the material comes from a deep analysis of the specific location of the project, with its geographical and socio-political conditions. As said before, the school is located in a Bedouin camp in the Judean desert, what nowadays is the area C of the West Bank. Permanent buildings are forbidden there, so no conventional construction company is allowed to supply materials or to work in that place.
Straw was one of the only materials not too complicated to find nearby of the site, helping at the same time local farmers by using their production. There were also many other advantages of using straw: starting from its great capacity of thermal and acoustic insulation, its low cost, till the fact it doesn’t need special skilled manpower. Moreover, it comes from the wasted part of the plant which is anyway produced for other functions.
The rest of the materials were taken directly from the site. Easily-recyclable and natural materials were chosen in priority, even the construction techniques were chosen such that they profit from the natural features of the materials and the surrounding environment. The construction was then conceived with natural ventilation which was created between the two different layers of the roof and the walls, designed to have a high thermal inertia, allowing maintenance of the freshness during the hot days and the heat during the winter season.
Description: Straw bales technique in the Palestinian desert. 2 new classroom
Design: ARCò - Architecture & Cooperation
Consultants: Jorge Román, Architect (Building Site Manager).
Building status: in use
Construction period: December 2012
Location: Al Khan Al Ahmar Bedouin Camp, Palestinian Territories
Coordinates: 31°47'48.9'' N, 35°17'42.4'' E
Tags: desert, low tech, recycled recources, straw, education
Project ID: 446
Published: 11 February 2014
Last updated: 25 March 2014
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