• 06.12.09

Norman Foster’s Plan to Save the Children: Build a School for Sierra Leone

Lord Foster designs a low-cost school for charity.

Sierra Leone School

How does a designer give back? If you’re Lord Norman Foster, you use all your architectural expertise to build a school in Sierra Leone. Working in conjunction with Article 25, a construction charity, Save the Children and Buro Happold, an engineering firm, Foster designed an extremely simple building which nonetheless taps some of the most modern features in sustainable architecture. The Foster family will finance the construction.

Sierra Leone School

Flexibility was the key to the design–a system which Foster calls “architecture with architects” which can be adapted to nearly any use. The modular system includes floors, walls and a roof, each of which can be easily assembled and reconfigured for local needs–and can be made using locally-sourced wood and timber.

Outwardly, it looks much like the vernacular buildings. But the design maximizes natural light and ventilation–while providing a wide-open layout that allows understaffed teachers to keep an eye on all their students. The big design feature is a roof that “does all the work,” according to Foster’s sketches. With a 30-degree pitch, it minimizes solar gain. Additionally a “top hat”–basically an additional roof–creates pressure differentials that increase natural air flow. The roof can also be extended with more overhang, to create shaded porches for teaching or play.

Sierra Leone School

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About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.