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Deep in the jungle of the Congo Basin, six hours by motorcycle from the nearest airstrip, the Ilima Primary School by MASS Design Group and the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) aims to set a new standard for rural education and to redefine what architecture can aspire to in limited-resource areas. Built as part of AWF's strategy to encourage environmental preservation in the region, the school serves as a community centre for village-level programming to promote sustainable farming and hunting practices for the mutually beneficial integration of villages and wildlife.
Humans have lived in the forests of the Congo for tens of thousands of years, and are heavily dependent on the environment's resources for raw materials. The capital city of Kinshasa can only be reached from Ilima after a two day canoe trip and a full day's motorcycle ride, leaving the people of Ilima relatively isolated. This isolation has forced the community to develop an extensive knowledge of their ecosystem and its animals, and to depend on the Basin for food, medicine, water, and shelter.
Built entirely of materials and labor sourced on the hard-to-access site, the Ilima School embodies MASS's ethos of Lo-Fab [local fabrication]. The shingles were crafted out of local wood, as were the beams. The bricks were created on site from local sand and locally-sourced palm oil, out of a recipe developed with advice from Ilima masons.
The Ilima community is situated in Equateur Province at the heart of the Congo Basin, an environmental treasure that spans 3.7 million square kilometers and is home to some of the world's largest pristine tropical rainforest and wetland areas.