FARMING COMMUNITY MODELS
Due to the unyielding hierarchical and social beliefs in rural communities in Uganda, these communities are becoming less pleasant to live in; a fact proven by the large number of migrants into urban areas like Kampala, Jinja, Mukono and Wakiso. This hierarchy is largely reflected in the spatial organization, particularly in farming communities, resulting in implicit divisions that are usually gender-based. The consequences of the current spatial arrangements have made it evident that architects have a significant role to play in reviving these farming communities, especially in a country like Uganda where approximately 60% of the economy is sourced from agriculture. Rittel et al. (1973) refer to such architectural problems as intrinsically ‘wicked problems,’ acknowledging the difficulty in planning for a large ‘complex social system.’ Fortunately, in Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning, Horst Rittel also recognizes that ‘problem understanding and problem resolution are concomitant to each other.’
One solution to such issues in Uganda could be the use of a Farming Community Model (FCM), a term I coined myself. This is a tool that deals largely with spatial organization in communities that depend on farming and agriculture as their main means of income. The FCM aids in providing the most appropriate spatial solution to a community’s social, political and economic needs by operating as a point of departure and ‘planting a seed’ for future regeneration and growth. This five-step tool also reflects the significance of the social order and role of culture in the existing spatial organization. It conveys the existing body of knowledge and the architecture, which is driven by scarcity and affordability, and subsequently incorporates innovative techniques into a befitting spatial organizational diagram for each community. This approach further promotes education and craftsmanship, especially to the more suppressed gender in the community.
Although the ultimate solution is largely political, an architect’s contribution, given our skill sets of problem-solving, analysis and critical thinking, enables us to focus on a spatial arrangement that enhances people's lives. It is also one way to start a conversation about health, education and business that can filter not only into the individual’s homes but also to the overarching economy of the country.
The FCM functions on the basis that an architect works with the community/client to propose the best outcome in the public, community or private sector of architecture. The model considers the history, geography, geology, flora and fauna as well as the evolving traditions of a place to inform the design solution.
Some of the other principles it imbues are the use of a holistic approach not only in terms of materiality but also in the exploration and use of local craft and building methods, a factor the architects in Uganda really ought to consider more often to avoid proposing designs that are too complex to be delivered by local laborers and builders.
A good example of such consideration is Kyambura Lodge, designed by Ross Langdon, in Western Uganda. The site where the eco-lodge was built is a former coffee processing factory. According to the architect, ‘the new buildings are constructed using locally sourced materials and labor to provide a unique contextual response to the surrounding national parks, farmland industrial buildings and vernacular dwellings’ (Langdon, 2012). The second phase of this project was ‘inspired by the ingenuity of African upcycled objects’ and nothing was wasted throughout the process of construction and interior design as ‘all broken, waste materials and objects…are utilized and expressed’ (Langdon, 2012).
The architect’s conscious role in involving the community and creating architecture that is beautiful and environmentally responsive is also expressed through the exchange of items, such as rusted roof sheeting from schools and houses in the community, for brand new roof sheeting. These items were then re-appropriated to be used in the Savannah Bandas.
Besides such deliberations, the success of the FCM lies within the idea of dealing with the most urgent need of the community first and educating the community/client accordingly. A design solution for Kafu Farm in Nakasongola District, an area that deals largely in extensive agriculture in the cattle corridor of Uganda, has been proposed using the FCM as a guide.
Through conversation with at least 40 locals, a weekly timetable was created showing the schedule of the average woman, man and child of 6 to 12 years old. Brief formulation followed closely after this. This accounted for the individual and public needs, such as distances travelled to buy groceries and receive medication, and led to a proposal for Kafu Community Centre. Designing an improved community centre in this area proved to be the most logical way forward as it would have the largest positive outcome on their daily lives.
The community centre includes spaces for vocational training, child and health care, communal kitchens, and trading/market spaces. These spaces are housed on two elevated landscapes/platforms made of fired clay brick, with timber and brick columns, and corrugated iron roofing. The design also provides several rain water collection tanks. The architecture provides ‘the bones’ of the community centre rather than a finished project, leaving the locals to use it as they see fit. The spaces are flexible and arranged to allow for skill adoption by community members who might be interested in learning the various craft and mastery of the area such as weaving, ghee-making, brick-making, construction methods, caretaking, trading/business, and other practical activities.
The preliminary structures in this FCM proposal will be further amalgamated using elements such as mats produced by the women, as well as the randomized patterns of vertical timber elements as used by women in kitchen construction. This allows for spaces that can be infilled, as an ode to the idea of ‘transformation’ overtime and ‘architecture of scarcity’.
Once the project is handed over by the architect to the community, its projected growth, in my opinion, will start from the infill of these spaces and then furthermore through the expansion of the elevated landscape. This will most logically commence with the construction of water tanks or water collection points followed by the construction of the platform, additional vertical elements, roofing, and finally the various skills and personalities of the community members in the arrangement of spaces, an element that will bring the character of this particular use of the farming community model to life.