An interview with Felix Holland from Localworks | WEtalking+

Reading time: 3 min.

Welcome to our WEtalking+ interview series, in our second interview round we meet Felix Holland, lead Architect of Localworks the collaborative based in Kampala, Uganda with the mission to create green, contextual and adaptive design architecture.

While bringing true change to the local communities, we at We-Building also would like to highlight similar works by other organizations close to us, thereby building a wider ecosystem of like-minded organizations to help build a better world.

“We are designers and builders who think of themselves as pragmatic idealists”.
Their goal is to create projects that mainly include creating comfortable and inspiring spaces for the users in a way that is in harmony with the environment. Their portfolio mainly includes projects from the educational and hospitality sectors.

© Photo credits: Will Boase Photograph

As Felix Holland recalls “The Localworks story started in 2013, with the founding of Studio FH Architects. Over the years, Studio FH established strong relationships with a number of engineering, landscape and cost consultancy practices which eventually led to the creation of the ‘Localworks roof’ under which all of us now work”.
The team constituted by designers and builders define themselves as pragmatic idealists, says Felix Holland.

Felix and his team had identified the need to bring innovation and idealism to the construction sector and their mission is to spearhead ecological architecture across the region. He explains that their pillars are defined as Research, Design, Build and Share. “The last of the four highlights that we see ourselves as more than a commercial practice in that we want to share with a wider community the lessons we are learning in our daily practice”. Their desire to share the knowledge with other communities has led to the creation of the Localtalks series which are quarterly public events dedicated to green design in East Africa.

When asked how their projects contribute to a sustainable future, Felix responds by saying that their aim is to develop buildings that are appropriate for their surroundings by combining modern architecture with buildings that have a lower environmental impact. Another aim is to promote biodiversity around the projects – “it is our ambition to leave completed projects behind with a richer biodiversity than before we started”.

One of the big challenges, Felix explains, is setting the right priorities, sometimes they have more ideas than they can actually implement. His advice is to be patient and grow organically and we completely agree with him.

© Photo credits: Will Boase Photograph

Localworks have a lot on their pipeline, for example, at the moment they are constructing a prototype of a fully pre-fabricated low-cost house that is targeted at teachers’ accommodation for many of their upcountry schools.

They are also celebrating their recently completed earth bag project – Mustardseed Junior School and the restoration of a Cistercian Monastery which has been under construction for the last three years in Southern Uganda.

For Felix sustainability and social impact really means using contextual, adaptive design philosophy. “ ‘Green’ is essential to us, and our understanding of it is basic and fundamental; where we site a building, how we shape and orientate it, how we relate it to topography, views and vegetation, which materials we use, how we ventilate the building and how we protect it from rain”. This is their understanding of ‘ecological’ and it shapes everything they do – “In our opinion, this is far more effective than deploying post – design high-tech to dress up problems that could have been avoided in the first place”.

We want to conclude this interview with the encouraging tip that Felix shared for our readers:

“Keep it simple and human, don’t be fundamentalist and don’t stop dreaming. Architects and builders can – and will – play their part in saving this planet”.

For more information on Localworks, we invite you to visit their social media channels:

Website | Instagram | Facebook

*WEtalking+ is a new series of posts telling the unheard stories of inspiring changemakers around the world. Their projects are contributing to creating a better world through sustainable social and environmental initiatives, linked to construction and architecture practices. ♻️

More than just a school – An interview with Mariana Fischer from Hai Africa | WEtalking+

Reading time: 3 min.

“From Brazil to Africa”, Welcome to our WEtalking+ interview series, where we meet Mariana Fisher, a committed humanitarian whose non-profit organization, Hai Africa has transformed the lives of 90 children in Kenya.

While bringing true change to the local communities, we at WEbuilding also would like to highlight similar works by other organizations close to us, thereby building a wider ecosystem of like-minded organizations to help build a better world.

“On April 1st, 2015, I arrived in Nairobi believing it is just another trip, and Uganda is my next destination. And as you might imagine, I never made it to Uganda” recalls Mariana Fischer, who is now heading Hai Africa, a non-profit organization aimed at providing high-quality education to underprivileged children in Kenya.

Mariana is originally from São Paulo, Brazil, where she studied advertising and education. In 2015, she went to Kenya to do volunteering work and ended up starting an organization called Hai Africa.

She has spent the past 6 years building an organization capable of providing free education and food to kids in the Kabiria community, in Nairobi, Kenya. Mariana passionately believes that education can change the world and hence so far she has raised money to bring food and education to more than 100 families.

Mariana primarily resides in Brazil where she raises funds and often travels to Kenya to oversee Hai Africa’s activities. “On May 4th, 2015, I took the $4,000 that I raised through a crowdfunding campaign to help social projects and used it to rent a small house, hire a teacher, and open Hai Africa’s doors to provide meals and creative activities for 13 children in the community”, Mariana recalls, while we asked about her early days with the organization.

“We are more than just a school,” Mariana says. In their center, Hai Africa supports 15 women who act as the caretakers of the children. With Hai Africa’s support, these women have also become artisans and now they play an essential role in providing livelihood for their families. Fondly the center is called “Mamas Company”, signifying the roles of the mothers who play dual roles in taking care of the children and their families.

According to Mariana, Hai Africa is committed to providing a sustainable community-focused solution. “ We don’t just look at one piece of the poverty puzzle. Instead, we address the challenge from different sides by providing education, nutrition, healthcare, and economic opportunities”, says Mariana when we asked about the sustainability of her projects.

“Hai Africa’s main goal is to offer a space where kids would receive an education based on the Waldorf values. i.e, An education full of love, freedom, and independence” says Mariana. Hai Africa aims to measure the impact of her organization over three pillars: education, emotional development, and health. Their tools for impact measurement include surveys on BMI, Waldorf principles on grading and physical observation from the teachers. They aim to implement it once the children are back from COVID lockdown.

When asked about the challenges she faces in running this organization, she says “ Our biggest challenges are working in a culturally different country and maintaining all the fundraising money in REAL (Brazilian currency)”, and that she aims to bring Hai Africa to Brazil someday in future.

Since Mariana’s organization is aimed at uplifting the community in a sustainable way, she says “social impact and sustainability happen when you care about the effect and impact you cause in people’s lives”. She also insists that one should always question their choices and connect their lives to nature for sustainability.

When we asked her for a tip for our readers, Mariana said that one should think about the impact that they are causing on society. Mariana insists on putting oneself in someone else’s shoes and starting doing one’s part to change the world.

For more information on Mariana and Hai Africa, please refer to her social media and show her your support:

Website | Instagram | LinkedIn | Facebook

*WEtalking+ is a new series of posts telling the unheard stories of inspiring changemakers around the world. Their projects are contributing to creating a better world through sustainable social and environmental initiatives, linked to construction and architecture practices. ♻️

P.S. This post was created in collaboration with Santhosh Kumar a volunteer from Delivery Hero during their Hero Month, thank you!

Author: Santhosh Kumar & Fulvia De Grazia

Partnership between Hydro and We-Building

The year of 2021 is being a very exciting year for us at We-Building. Besides two new projects in our pipeline, one school in Masaka, Uganda, and another school in Ranja Valley, Haiti and the start of the construction phase of the school in San Andres, Putumayo, Colombia, we welcomed our new partner, WICONA by Hydro, a global player providing aluminium solutions with more than 70 years’ experience!

As part of this 3-year partnership, WICONA by Hydro will be joining forces with We-Building in our local projects, providing their expertise in sustainable construction solutions and introducing us to a network of local partners. On top, WICONA by Hydro has generously committed to make a donation, which will enable us to finance 1 entire classroom of our ongoing project in Ranja Valley, Haiti, which constructions are planned to start in Spring 2022. This means a lot to us and obviously the community of Ranja Valley and we would like to send a big THANK YOU to WICONA by Hydro on behalf of the entire We-Building team!

Tales from a Sustainable Construction Site: the Bucket and the Hose.

Reading time: 2 min.

In development construction projects, there are often a number of risks to be considered. Today we’re going to talk about risks associated with the construction itself, rather than topics such as security which may surround any project.

Availability of resources, both in terms of materials as well as tools and specialist labour, can affect what is achievable. Assuming all resources are in place, however, there is also the question of the terrain itself.
Marginalised populations are often driven away from more desirable grounds, which are otherwise ripe for agricultural activities or more expensive housing. Often, what is left is unstable ground which many governmental agencies would declare unfit for construction.
Informal settlements comprised of shanties or shacks, otherwise known as Shanty towns, are typically made of materials like mud or wood and can be found on steep hillsides. They exist across the world – with some of the largest being Ciudad Neza in Mexico, Orangi in Pakistan and Dharavi in India, as well as in the Global North, such as in Athens, Los Angeles, and Madrid.
They can be places of hope, with residents often recycling as much as possible and aiming to improve their communities. Indeed, many manage to improve their infrastructure and become more typical neighbourhoods.

Construction projects in these areas very often need to take steep gradients into account. Sometimes due to inadequate budgets or lack of advanced measurement tools, it is hard to get exact information of how sloped the terrain actually is. And that data is crucial to start any kind of design. In our first project in Ghana (Darmang Community School), we were faced with the same challenge and used an ancient technique to help us out. The method is easily taught, and as it involves simple and readily-available tools can be used in future projects as well.

All you need is… a bucket and a hose!

Measuring a slope requires a few steps, and some simple mathematics.

  1. A hose is laid along the length of the slope to be measured (which we will name “a”)
  2. Water is slowly poured into hose at the higher end
  3. At the lower end, the hose is slowly raised (a ladder can be useful) until water is no longer coming out of the hose. This means that both ends have the same water level. The distance from the ground to the top of the raised slope is measured (this is “b”)
  4. We use the formula: sinA = a / b
  5. Remember not to get too wet!
The final Result: Darmang Community School. More info here.

Author: David Jenkins

Many Stories at ROBA

Courtesy of ROBA School

At We-Building we recently concluded an expansion of the already existing River of Blessing Academy (ROBA) which includes six new classrooms. This school provides high-quality low-cost primary education in Koforidua, Ghana. Because of the school’s holistic approach, from time to time they are publishing books where every student can participate with a story or a poem. This is just one of multiple activities like art shows, science presentations, and sport events that are happening throughout the terms to give every child the opportunity to shine.

Some of the benefits of reading for pleasure in children are acquisition of general knowledge, a better understanding of other cultures, and community participation. Consequently, further benefits could be expected if they are also writing for pleasure and representing themselves with their own stories. Representation is crucial, like novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie pointed out in her 2009 TED talk titled The danger of a single story. “There is an Igbo word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is “nkali.” It’s a noun that loosely translates to ‘to be greater than another’. Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power. Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.”

The danger of a single story is that it creates stereotypes, which for the most part are incomplete, and after a while these stereotypes might become the norm to think about or view a country, a region, a population. With these multiple stories and poems written by the ROBA students, they are not only staying motivated in their learning process and finding their strengths, but are also giving readers, be it their parents, siblings, friends or neighbors the chance to have a ‘balance of stories’, to access many stories, while emphasizing their agency to imagine and tell their own. We leave you here with some of the many stories and worlds from Koforidua, Ghana.

We-Building joins Zero Waste Festival Berlin

Zero Waste Berlin Festival will bring together individuals, companies, and government actors to share and provide resources and practical solutions in sustainability, zero waste, and circular economy. 

We are thrilled to be part of this festival and that Ivan, one of our co-founders and head of architecture at our non-profit, will participate as a speaker. This festival is a unique space to exchange and learn how to contribute to a greener planet, and since sustainability is one of We-Building’s main goals while developing projects, Ivan will share some knowledge about Sustainable Architecture and how activism can empower local communities. 

It will be two full evenings of amazing speakers, and because Zero Waste can be applied to diverse aspects of society and life, the topics go from, lifestyle, home, fashion and self-care to mobility and activism. The Festival will take place online and you may purchase your tickets here

Remember to save the time for From Theory to Practice in Sustainable Architecture by Ivan Rališ which will go live on September 24th from 18:20 to 18:50. 

The River of Blessing Academy, Koforidua, Ghana. 2020

A thing is a thing

Beginning in the sixties but throughout the following decades several artists from Latin America have adopted performance as their art form, this would include performances, happenings, actions, photo, video, and private performances. Colombia is a country with a varied artistic repertoire, and since We-Building has two ongoing projects there we have been exploring performance artists from this country, and today we would like to share some with you.

It was in 1990 that a performance work first received a prize at an art event in Colombia, and the award was for María Teresa Hincapié, at the XXXIII Salón Nacional Artistas, which points to her foundational role in the development of this practice in Colombia, as Maria Iovino says in her article from the book Arte [no es] vida: actions by artists of the Americas 1960-2000.

According to Iovino, before Hincapié there where two artist who had produced performance pieces in Colombia, María Evelina Marmolejo and María Teresa Cano. Marmolejo’s actions, where influenced by the expressionist lines of Body art, and focused on the topic of the woman as a life-giving body.

Other performance artist that began their work in the late seventies and early eighties, were Sara Modiano, Rosemberg Sandoval and Delfina Bernal.  

Witnesses to the Ruins (Testigo de las ruinas) by Mapa Teatro group (created by Heidi, Elizabeth, and Rolf Abderhalden) is another of the most well-known performance works from Colombia. Their performance in a non-chronological way synthetizes the groups experience during the process of disappearance of El Cartucho neighborhood in Bogotá. They documented the disappearance of a place, and the appearance of a non-place, to make visible how the residues and traces of what has been lost remain, as well as the narrations that reconfigure the neighborhood’s memory, as stated by the Hemispheric Institute.

Finally, Nadia Granados also from Bogotá, has been working with performance since 1997. She develops a highly political art that aims to go beyond the merely aesthetic through audiovisual elements related to pornography, sexualized bodies, and eroticism as a weapon of transgression. On Granado’s website she states that her work is both performative and technological, both art and activism, and a mix of cabaret, public intervention, and video transmissions.

Some common themes addressed by all these artists are land, life, death, violence, feminism, origin, displacement, and the body. All of which are intrinsic to Colombia’s history, but also connected to the current global political economy. We hope this small collection is enriching and sparks your interest in Colombian and Latin American art.

Nadia Granados: la artista colombiana del performance postporno | Intocables Shock

African Culture Stories 2:
An encounter with Mozambican film

A poster for the Fim do Caminho festival
Source: http://festivalfimdocaminho.org/

Picking up on our last post, here is the second installment of African Culture Stories: a cinematic excursion to Mozambique!

Mozambique is home to a thriving film industry whose development closely mirrors the country’s turbulent and violent history. Mozambican cinema was born in the wake of the country’s independence in 1975, at the end of a brutal 10-year war with Portugal. The first act of the new government was to establish a National Film Institute, whose job was to produce a weekly newsreel (entitled Kuxa Kanema, meaning “the birth of cinema”) that would “capture the image of the people and deliver it back to the people,” and which was shown all over the country – even in remote rural areas, where they were projected by mobile film vans.

The determination of the government and the personal commitment of the country’s president Samora Machel led to the creation of one of the first film production facilities in Africa, which attracted directors of international renown, including French directors Jean Rouch and Jean-Luc Godard and Portuguese-Brazilian filmmaker Ruy Guerra, who in 1979 produced Mozambique’s first feature film, Mueda: memória e massacre, considered a classic of anti-colonial cinema. For a glimpse into these early years of Mozambican film-making, check out the fascinating documentary Kuxa Kanema: The Birth of Cinema by Portuguese filmmaker Margarida Cardoso.

Still from the documentary
Kuxa Kanema: The Birth of Cinema

The rise of video and television, and especially death of President Samora in 1986, ushered in a new period dominated by video as a cheap and accessible medium. A central figure of this time was the Brazilian director Licínio Azevedo, today one of Mozambique’s most prominent filmmakers known for Virgem Margarida (2013) and O Comboio de Sal e Açúcar (The Train of Salt and Sugar, 2016), both of which explore the traumas left by the country’s past.

One of the few Mozambican feature films available on YouTube with English subtitles is Terra Sonâmbula (Sleepwalking Land, 2007) by Teresa Prata. This lyrical movie tells the story of the young boy Muidinga, who is wandering the war-ravaged countryside with his guardian Tuahir. When Muidinga discoveres a set of notebooks inside a burnt-out bus, the narration begins to shift between his present reality and the story evoked by his readings of the notebooks, which offer a personal perspective on the country’s conflict-ridden history.

And what about today? Among the up-and-coming generation of Mozambican filmmakers are Mickey Fonseca and Pipas Forjaz, who founded their own production company and produced their first feature, the crime thriller Resgate (Redemption) in 2019. This hard-hitting film, which was partially financed via crowdfunding, won the 2019 Africa Movie Academy Awards for best screenplay and best production design and will become the first independent Mozambican movie to be streamed on Netflix, where it is set to premiere this month.

Conditions for film-making remain difficult in a country where – according to the website of the Fim do Caminho festival, the first regularly recurring film festival outside of the capital Maputo, which was active from 2014 to 2017 – the number of functioning cinemas can be counted on two hands.

Abandoned newsreels
(Still from the documentary Kuxa Kanema)

Putumayo (not the record label)

At WEbuilding one of our goals is to contribute in the development of rural population through education and essential infrastructure that creates opportunities for young people. We are pairing with Catalina Muñoz Foundation to build two new school buildings needed at the public school “Centro Educativo Madre Laura“, located in the Santiago municipality of the Putumayo department in southern Colombia.

This is a vast and multi-faceted region and its name derives from the Putumayo River, which is born east of the city of Pasto; and as it pours into Brazil it is called Içá. The Putumayo is a tributary of the Amazon River, and it has been written about in fiction and non-fiction accounts for at least a couple of centuries. The area called Putumayo in these writings does not obey however to strict departmental boundaries, but to looser and expansive limits regarding the Amazon region of Colombia, and even beyond political frontiers.

Perhaps the most well-known narrative about this region in Colombia is The Vortex, a novel published in 1924 by José Eustasio Rivera, a frontier fiction which has also been classified as Latin American Regionalism or “earth novel”. In it, the Putumayo River and the jungle become a set in which the author represents many subjects, like the fluidity of borders, the diversity of identities, culture, and people in Colombia and South America, the importance of local and ancestral knowledge, and the internalized colonization which governments and companies kept imposing on indigenous groups after political independence from European countries.

In one of W.G. Sebald’s most popular novels, The Rings of Saturn, he talks about Roger Casement, a British Foreign Office diplomat who in the early twentieth century set out to the Putumayo River to investigate allegations against the Peruvian Amazon Company (PAC)—of British-Peruvian ownership. All these allegations included but where not limited to enslaving, torture, starvation, murder, and other atrocities towards Putumayo’s indigenous communities and foreign workers, as retold in Casement’s private journal and testimonies he compiled. Both “The Vortex” and Casement’s accounts are unbelievable, the first fiction inspired by truth, and the second truth suitable for fiction.

A bit to the southeast, yet still in the realm of these natural borderlands, is the series Green Frontier. A thriller about a detective investigating a strange murder in a port town between Colombia and Brazil. With a nonlinear narrative the story unfolds a wealth of imagery and conflict regarding the region. It is centered on a secret that preserves the jungle, hence the world. This series set in current times takes us back to older representations of the Amazon written by foreign and national “explorers” as either an Eden or a Green Hell; researched in Lesley Wylie´s Colombia’s Forgotten Frontier: a literary geography of the Putumayo.

Although this river and region are far away from Bogota, the capital city of Colombia, and even further from the social imagery linked to this country, they have played an influential role in its history and culture and produced powerful texts.  

African Culture Stories 1: A quick look at Ghanaian cinema

Welcome to our African culture thread!  In these posts, we will be taking a closer look at some aspects of the cultural life of the countries where WEbuilding’s projects are happening. We hope they pique your curiosity!

“Ghanaian cinema.” What comes to mind? I wasn’t sure either, but as it turns out, the seventh art in Ghana has a turbulent and fascinating history. From its beginnings – in the 1940’s, when it first became widely accessible – cinema in Ghana was linked to politics: the big screen was an important propaganda tool of the British colonial government (to rally support for the war effort, among other things).

This cinema-politics connection continued well after the country’s independence in 1957. In 1964, President Kwame Nkrumah established the Ghana Film Industry Corporation, to restore cinema to the people and foster national pride and self-determination. In the two years until Nkrumah’s overthrow in 1966, the GFIC produced over 150 films that served (as filmmaker Kofi Bucknor explains in this informative video about the early history of cinema in Ghana) as a “tool for having Ghanaians understand what governance was about.”

In the subsequent political turmoil, the Ghanaian film industry entered a period of decline, until the country’s first independent film hit theatres in 1981. This was Kwaw Ansah’s Love Brewed in the African Pot, a love story set in the colonial period that quickly became a classic, winning the UNESCO award for best cultural film. On the difficulty of financing his production in the face of a government-dominated film industry, Ansah recalls: “It took me about eight years. Finally, the bank gave me an audience. But then they wanted a fixed asset. I was working, I didn’t even have a car.” Luckily for Ansah (and for the history of African cinema) his father-in-law saved the situation by offering his house as collateral.

Ghana’s European cinematic breakthrough came two years later with Kukurantumi, the Road to Accra, by award-winning actor-director King Ampaw. Incidentally, this film – one of the first Ghanaian movies to be aired on European television – is set in the same region of Ghana as Koforidua, the site of WEbuilding’s River of Blessing Academy school project.

At the same time, with the advent of video in the 1980s, an independent amateur VHS film scene began to develop. Self-proclaimed directors would create their own scripts and film them with amateur actors. “It fell to people who had money to buy a video camera and shoot, it wasn’t about the quality of acting, it was just to put something on camera,” actress Anima Misa Amoah recalls. “So, in that period a lot of people got involved who had no idea of how to direct a movie.” But those were the times, and there was a cultural vacuum to fill.

Thirty-five years on, this grassroots approach continues to inform Ghanaian films, which are becoming increasingly present on the international scene. In 2019, The Burial of Kojo, a micro-budget local production by the 38 year-old hip-hop and visual artist Blitz Bazawule, became the first Ghanaian film to be released on Netflix, after winning numerous nominations and awards at the 15th Africa Movie Academy Awards. Since 2017, Accra also hosts the Ndiva Women’s Film Festival.

The Rex Cinema in Accra
(source: cinematreasures.org/)