In the jungle of the Congo Basin, six hours by motorcycle from the nearest airstrip, MASS’s Ilima Primary School, built in collaboration with the African Wildlife Foundation, serves as a student learning and community center that
enables and encourages integration with local wildlife.
Buildings do little good if neglected or deserted by the community they’re intended to serve. By training local
workers in all building processes and involving the community in each aspect of design and planning, MASS
made ensured that the school would be properly maintained when finished. In the beginning stages of the project, Ilima residents were recruited to participate in frequent meetings where designers asked for their opinions and preferences in school design.
Taking their cue from regional and climate-aware design practices, the school’s steep roof and gutter system respond to heavy rainfall and provide protection from sun and rain for the common areas. Combined with the open clerestory, this design encourages natural ventilation and daylight to create comfortable classrooms.
Built entirely with materials and labor sourced on site, the school embodies MASS’s ethos of Lo-Fab, or local
fabrication, highlighting local crafts and skills. Timber trusses, roof framing furniture, and architectural details
were sawn, planed and crafted by hand from trees selected by conservationists.
Timber trusses, roof framing furniture, and architectural details were sawn, planed and crafted by hand from trees selected by conservationists. Local builders and MASS architects developed a method for transforming local trees by hand into durable and replaceable wood shingles.
The Ilima Primary School’s mission, design, and construction were all grounded in the belief that conservation and community development is most feasible when communities are given the opportunity to develop in harmony with surrounding natural environments. Having access to knowledge about one’s environment, how to protect it for posterity, and how to fully and responsibly reap its natural bounty, is justice for rural communities.