In 2011, Building Trust International launched an International design competition asking Architects, Designers and Engineers to come up with an innovative design solution for a mobile, modular school for a displaced community of migrants and refugees on the Thai/Burma border. The winning design from American architects Dan La Rossa and Amadeo Bendetta was constructed in collaboration with Iron Wood, a social enterprise in Mae Sot made up of young migrants who have trained as apprentices and pass on their skills to others. In doing so the school became a learning tool in its own right giving skills sharing sesions on metal work for the steel frame construction and carpentry skills needed to create the bamboo wall panels. The design maximises the use of traditional bamboo building techniques for the walls and solar blinds. The school has the capability to be constructed and dismantled time and time again due to the steel frame structure which has simple repeated bolted connection details. The foundations were designed to be concrete free by filling reclaimed tyres with compacted gravel to hold the foundation footings in place.
The Building Trust team worked alongside local craftsmen, international volunteers, the local community, school children, parents, the school teachers and the headmistress to complete the school construction over 3 months. The school was completed in October 2012 with classes starting shortly after.
The cultural and social context of the project is more complicated than with most projects for when thinking about each of these areas one has to consider both local and migrant cultures both of which share similarities but also marked differences. The most important issue is identity and the need for Migrant communities to keep their own identity while also meeting requirements of the hosting communities. With any migrant/ refugee situation this is an incredibly sensitive area and for designers and architects adds to the complexity of consultation and contextualisation of designs.
Although many think that building in remote parts of the world leads to scarcity of materials and it is true that you may not be able to get the wide range of products and specifications that you can in a developed city you can get most materials and what you can’t buy off the shelve is relatively easy to manufacture. Timber is one resource that is not abundant and with strict logging laws in Thailand the cost of timber is high and the quality non protected species like eucalyptus is not so good. Reclaimed Teak can be sourced but has increased the practice of low income families selling their homes to be dismantled. The cost of such material is comparable with steel and is often higher for longer sections.
The roof was a challenge for us, we were keen to stick with the design that made use of a tensile fabric. The reasons were two fold longevity and noise reduction. Other schools in the region that have tin/zinc roofs last approx. 3-4 Years and make teaching almost impossible in the heavy rains which are common for 4 months of the year. We used a fastening techniques used in the advertising hording industry which to our knowledge has not been used in architecture for a roofing material. One year on and it is still holding well. The fastening technique also allows for the roof to be taken down, re-stretched and fastened again at any new location.