Sarosh Anklesaria

Sarosh Anklesaria

New Haven, CT, US


Edible Landscapes: A postpandemic archetype for a high school in Africa

Can architecture promote new paradigms in ecological thinking by generating new connections between food, education, landscape and ornament? The Covid-19 crisis has brought into sharp focus the fragility of planetary food supply and distribution systems. Even before coronavirus swept the globe, 135 million people in 55 countries faced acute hunger caused by conflict, poor food distribution and climate change. The UN World Food Program now estimates that with surpluses in farms, scarcities in cities, labor shortages and food export bans brought upon by the current pandemic, a global food crisis will see human starvation double by the end of 2020.  This competition entry is for a proposed high school in Benga Malawi, an area devoid of piped-water supply, sanitation and electricity, one of the poorest parts of Malawi which remains one of the poorest countries of Africa. Most farming in Malawi has been reduced to subsistence agriculture.  Malawi has among the highest chronic malnutrition rates in the world, as people have lost access to the knowledge of traditional forms of food production.  In recent years home grown school feeding programs have seen a significant success in increasing nutrition and education rates across the country.

The design builds upon these embedded contexts to promote a literal and phenomenal understanding of edible landscape, through reciprocities between architecture and permaculture. The organization of the site is inspired by a ‘site and services’ approach, historically used in housing projects, where roads and sanitation infrastructures are built as frameworks to allow for a temporal aggregation of buildings.  The proposal re-envisions these infrastructural frameworks as a network of nutritional gardens. Hence the construction of the school begins with the laying out of these edible landscapes that provide for a balanced diet of diverse and indigenous species of grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits, planted strategically in anticipation of buildings that are phased.  Such a strategy allows for the prioritization of food security and micro-investments in the campus over time.  It also allows for an immersive education of native food systems within and outside of the classroom.

The overall organization of buildings on the site follows a model of protective rings and courtyards of varying scales and gradients of privacy. An agriculture band fills the edge of the site and provides a protective barrier for the school, while connecting it to surrounding fields.  The next ring of programs are teacher’s houses, followed by clusters of student dorms and classrooms and institutional buildings at the center of the site. The housing is anchored around communal kitchens, located in close proximity between student and teacher housing clusters. These are spaces of gathering at meal time for the school and also serve as demonstration areas for food and cooking practices.  In the student dorms, the inner courtyard brick walls are painted with rich murals inspired by the rich textile traditions of Malawi, facilitating a festive and temporal use of ornament. Classrooms embody the school’s self-sufficiency and circular resource use. Uplifting butterfly roofs catch rainwater and channel it to collection tanks. The tanks serve for both student hygiene at the ventilated pit latrines and for watering the vegetable planters that run between the classrooms. These integrated planters serve for education, nutrition, and inspiration – creating a beautiful and bountiful landscape for learning. The classrooms are paired in twos to enable co-teaching and open into the landscape with large windows and doors.

The organization of the campus mirrors a reciprocity architecture and rich permaculture landscapes of indigenous species of grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits. Selecting plants of various sizes, harvest times, textures, flavors, colors, functions and lifespan, can build a multi-layered, soil rich, high-yield ecology. We integrate these edible plants with semi permeable pathways and an abundance of flowering plants to help maintain the ecological balance of the land. Students learn how to best care for the landscapes and work together with teachers to maintain them.  The irregularly shaped perimeter of the site provide areas for growing grains such as maize and sorghum. Interspersed in the furrows of grain are Apple-Ring Acacia or Ana Trees for enriching the soil that provide fodder for goats. Tall grain plants will provide a green barrier surrounding the school, the Ana trees—which flower in the hot season producing a beautiful and inspiring perimeter during the summer. Between the classroom buildings, raised planters provide space for growing smaller vegetables like cow peas, squash, potatoes, and other indigenous species of tubers and legumes. Their proximity to the classrooms emphasizes the importance of reviving native plants, essential to a resilient ecosystem. The courtyards of the classroom buildings and housing clusters will grow fruit orchards — mango, banana, pineapple, guava, avocado, after which the clusters might get their names. Rain water harvesting tanks around the perimeter store water from the monsoon season for later use, any excess feeds into the agricultural band.

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Status: Unbuilt
Location: Benga, MW
My Role: Author
Additional Credits: Eleanor Krause, Tess Clancy and Christopher Yi
In association with: Aubryn Sidle, Rachel Bezner Kerr, Stephanie Enloe at the Department of Developmental Sociology, Cornell University

Animated Site