Imprecise Infrastructure

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The competition brief asked to design a technology media lab and library for SIDAREC, a not-for-profit organization based in Mukuru Kwa Njenga—an informal slum settlement of Nairobi with a population of 250,000 people. Our proposal defines SIDAREC Center as an infrastructure for the slum’s artistic, cultural, and functional expression. All the building spaces will be defined by a system of blank fences that users can appropriate as they see fit.

Safety is an important concern for any slum inhabitant. Our security concept, in this case, relied on the number of borders that had to be crossed in order to access certain rooms. For this reason, the organization of the building is similar to that of an onion: it is made out of a ‘concentric’ system of fences (built out of steel bars and working as an infrastructural wall) defining different rooms and occupying a total area of 236 m2. This system of layers would also enable SIDAREC to build their building in phases as materials, funding, or time become available.

Slums can show a poignant sense of fragility and adaptability that has inspired us in the design of our fencing system. The proposed fences do not fit exactly in the underlying tile grid; rather, the system is designed with some tolerance in an attempt to overcome potential problems such as the impossibility to obtain the right material or the lack of good labor. As a result, and as the plan of our design shows, the proposed fencing system is delicate yet with a strong character, exhibiting an image that we find appropriate and inspiring for SIDAREC’s mission.

This design would primarily be built with two types of materials: steel bars and papercrete. Steel bars are relatively easy to obtain at any urban center—such as Nairobi—since they are used as concrete reinforcements. Papercrete is a construction material made out of recycled paper mixed with water and cement or clay. SIDAREC, the not-for-profit client for this competition, has always received book donations from ‘generous’ Western countries. However, most of these books are usually useless, since they are nothing more than electronic appliances’ manuals. Our intention is to recycle these ‘generous’ gifts and use them as construction material for SIDAREC’s new building.

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Project Data

Imprecise Infrastructure
Competition Proposal
Mukuru Kwa Njenga, Nairobi, Kenya
September 2007 – February 2008

Design Team: Sergio Lopez-Pineiro, Kin Chun Ma, Saki Yoshimura
Submitted to: 2007 AMD Open Architecture Challenge, organized by Open Architecture Network, San Francisco, USA

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