The METI School is an inspirational paradigm of sustainable design using the local construction techniques and labour by Anna Heringer and Eike Roswag

Architecture
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Project Credits:
Project Name: METI School
Location: Rudrapur, Dinajpur district, Bangladesh
Ground floor: 3 classrooms and 6 ‘caves’,
Upper floor: 2 classrooms (dividable)
Footprint 275 m
Floor area 325 m
Client
Dipshikha/METI (Modern Education and Training Institute), Bangladesh in cooperation with
Partnerschaft Shanti – Bangladesch
e.V. and the Papal Children’s Mission (PMK)
Sponsor: Partnerschaft Shanti Bangldesh e.V. and Kindermissionswerk (Germany)
Architects: Anna Heringer, Eike Roswag
Design and Concept: Anna Heringer
Technical planning: Eike Roswag
Pictures: © Naquib Hossain / © B.K.S. Inan-Aga Khan award for architecture / © Kurt Hoerbst*
All plans and drawings: © Anna Heringer
Structural engineering, Earth construction consulting:
Ziegert Roswag Seiler Architekten Ingenieure Bürogemeinschaft, Berlin
Dr.-Ing. Christof Ziegert, Dipl.-Ing. Uwe Seiler
Consulting, building supervision and training of workers in bamboo construction
Emmanuel Heringer (basket weaver and carpenter), Stefanie Haider (blacksmith)
Supervision design: Prof. Roland Gnaiger, Martin Rauch, Peter Kugelstätter
Construction
25 to 30 local workers
Workers by trade
8 bricklayers
12 – 20 labourers for earthen building
8 labourers for bamboo construction
1 foreman, 2 apprentices, 5 trainees, METI training workshop for joiners
5 plasterers (interior plaster)
1 local foreman
2 architects, 2 crafts experts (Team from Germany)
4 – 6 volunteers, (students, teachers, workmen from Germany and Austria) students and teachers ever afternoon
Construction period
6 months (September to December 2005 and March, April 2006)
Materials used
83 m3 masonry brickwork for foundations and veranda
270 m3 cob for walls, ceilings in the ‘caves’, rammed earth floors
400 tonnes wet earthen material
2,300 bamboo canes for ceilings, upper storey, facades
12,500 bamboo strips for upper storey bamboo facades
Construction
Foundations: Brick masonry with damp proof course
Walls, ground floor: load-bearing cob walling (wet earth technique, straw-earth mixture)
Ceiling: Bamboo ceiling, triple-layer with cob fills
Upper floor: Framework of thick bamboo members
Facade upper floor: Timber window frames with bamboo cladding
Flat roof, corrugated iron roofing
METI students
Number: 168

Born in 1977 in Laufer near Salzburg, Anna Heringer spent almost a year in Bangladesh in her late teens understanding sustainable development work from NGO Dipshikha. With the experience itself being an important lesson, she also learnt that the best development strategy is to utilize the natural resources in the best possible manner than to depend on artificial systems. She translated this belief into architectural design with the Meti School in Rudrapur, Bangladesh, along with Eike Roswag and a team of German and Bangladeshi craftsmen. She had crafted the design of the school in 2004 as a diploma project at the University of Arts in Linz.

She strongly believes that sustainability mirrors beauty and building design encompasses various aspects such as structure, technique, use of materials, the user, location, environment and the socio-cultural context. She aspires to employ architecture as a tool to boost the local economy, the cultural confidence as well as the ecological stability.

Bangladesh, the country with the highest population density in the world, is a mass of fertile alluvial land in the Gulf of Bengal. Most of the structures in this country follow the vernacular building construction techniques using bamboo and earth as their core materials. However, many of these techniques are faulty and most of the buildings are devoid of foundations and damp proof coursing,requiring regular maintenance. As a result, they are likely to suffer premature damages and last for an average of ten years only.

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The Aga Khan Award winner of 2007, the handmade bamboo school by METI (Modern Education and Training Institute) aims to enhance the quality of living in the rural areas of the country in order to combat the growing migration of the populace from the villages to the cities. One of the project’s goals is to utilize the low cost of labour and the local building materials to their best potential and convey the importance of the same to the population, thus developing the historic building techniques and the local craftsmen’s skills which in turn renovate the regional architectural image.

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METI works with the philosophy of ‘learning with joy’. The students are encouraged by the teachers to understand and develop their own potential, utilizing it in a conscientious and creative way. These principals form the concept of the school building in terms of architectural design, materials used and construction techniques adopted. Along with providing holistic education, the school intends to enhance the prevailing building techniques, to contribute to sustainability by employing the local potential and to bolster the regional identity.

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With an alternative approach to the typical lessons, METI aspires to promote individual capabilities and interests, understanding the different speeds of learning of the schoolchildren and teachers. The open form of learning adopted by METI is reflected in the school’s architecture as the spaces designed and their uses assist this method of learning and teaching.

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The ground floor consists of three classrooms made of thick earthen walls, complete with their own access that opens into an organic pattern of ‘caves’ at the rear of the rooms. The interiors of these spaces are soft for the students to feel, explore or concentrate by oneself or in a group.

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The upper floor in contrast is a light and open space encouraging movement; the fenestrations in the bamboo walls providing picturesque views of its surroundings that boast of treetops and the village pond. The light and shadows created by the bamboo strips play on the earthen floor. This phenomenon is offset by the colourful materials of the saris on the ceiling.

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Bricks are one of the most commonly used building materials of Bangladesh. The building sits on a 50 cm deep brick masonry foundation rendered with a facing cement plaster. Since the country has almost no natural stone reserves, the alluvial clay sand is fired in open circular kilns to manufacture the bricks. These are employed for building construction or are broken down to be used as aggregate for concrete or as ballast chippings. Imported coal is used to fire these kilns.

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The damp proof course used was an important addition to the local earthen building skills. This course is essentially a double layer of the locally available PE-film. The construction of the ground floor uses load-bearing walls made using a technique similar to cob walling. Along with the help of cows and water buffalo, a straw earth mixture having a low straw content was manufactured and this was piled on top of the foundation wall to a height of 65 cm per layer. The excess material extending along the needed width of the wall is trimmed off using sharp spades after a few days. The next layer of cob is applied after a drying period of a week. In the casting of the third and fourth layers, the door, window lintels and jambs were integrated.

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The final layers of cob were also fit with a ring beam of thick bamboo canes to be used as a wall plate for the ceiling. The ground floor’s ceiling is a triple layer of bamboo canes with the central layer arranged perpendicular to the other two layers to give lateral stabilization and a connection between the supporting beams. A layer of planking crafted of split bamboo canes was laid on the central layer and filled with an earthen mixture similar to the construction technique often used in the ceiling of European timber-frame constructions.

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The upper story of the building utilizes a frame construction of four-layer bamboo beams with vertical and diagonal members arranged at right angles to the building. The end of the frames at the short ends of the building and the stair also reinforce the building. These frames are connected through additional structural members with the upper and lower sides of the main beams and are equipped with additional wind-bracing on the upper surface of the frame. A series of bamboo rafters at half the interval of the frame construction beneath provide support for the corrugated iron roof construction. These are covered with timber panelling and are adjusted in height to provide sufficient run-off.

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The complete budget for the school construction remained with the village and its surroundings. Local resources were utilized: the building materials as well as the construction workers. The construction workers belonged to the Rudrapur village and were trained in advanced earth and bamboo building techniques during the project. The construction techniques adopted were chosen to encourage their replication by the locals in order to have a positive effect on the existing, poor housing conditions. The school kids were also a part of the building process so as to learn the value of sustainable construction and reflect on it.

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5Anna Heringer
13Anna Heringer (chief architect) and Stefano Mori (studio manager, architect)

– Tanvi Naik, Volume Zero

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