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Ruhehe Primary School


Nusanze, Rwanda


MASS Design Group; African Design Centre


M2 Foundation


Nous Engineering (Structural); Oak Consulting Group (Civil); Ubatsi (Structural); Transsolar (Environmental)


560sqm (Building)

1200sqm (Site)



Ruhehe Primary School is a public school that serves 1,120 students from pre-primary to grade six, with the help of 20 teachers and maintenance staff. Proir to its redesign the school lacked the appropriate infrastructure to support the demands of a growing institution. A much-needed renovation was undertaken by the inaugural cohort of African Design Centre (ADC) fellows, under the tutelage of MASS Design Group. The reconstruction at Ruhehe scaled lessons learned from Mubuga Primary School, MASS's pilot campus for a vision to redesign learning environments in Rwanda. The ADC's design-build curriculum provided a unique opportunity to develop this framework that could be iterated nationwide for improvements in education.

Through an extensive immersion process, ADC fellows were able to produce a community-centered design concept that emphasizes capacity building at all stages. The project aims to prove that better infrastructure can improve learner outcomes, increase satisfaction among students and teachers, and increase student retention rates. The redesign strategically fits within a budget relative to that of school reconstruction in Rwanda, so that the process, materials, and staffing can be scaled across the country.

General Arrangement

The ADC's and MASS's elegant solution for Ruhehe was to create two gently curving 5m high parallel boundary walls from which four new one-storey buildings branch toward the west. This plan separates the classrooms from a busy walking path, protecting students from distractions and creating a sense of an enclosed campus while preserving the school's connection to the community.

The new buildings contain five new classrooms, a library, headmaster's office and administration facilities. Two existing classrooms have been renovated for optimal use. The redesigned campus also includes designated playscapes and a comunity plaza. The innovative design utilizes locally sourced materials to create active learning spaces.

Participatory Process

Capacity Building

MASS launched the African Design Centre in 2016 to respond to the lack of skilled design and construction professionals within the booming African population. The programme aims to build a network of architects who can help to design more equitable and sustainable cities.

The course is a 20-month, multi-disciplinary programme which culminates with a live design-build project. Ruhehe Primary School was the live component for the initial cohort of ADC fellows. Since the programme's completion, half of the fellows have continued to full-time positions at MASS, while others have joined architecture practices in their home countries.

Immersion in Context

The programme focussed on teaching ADC fellows methods of immersive research that would place them in direct proximity to the community. Applying this training, the fellows led activities to determine how a redesigned campus could best address the needs of the Ruhehe community.

Local Fabrication

During a period of pre-design immersion, the ADC fellows discovered that there was a high rate of local unemployment, particularly amongst youth. In response to this, they focussed their design on hand-crafted and labour-intensive construction methods, which provided work for 110 labourers from the local community, 35% of which were women, 18% of which were youth.

Sustainable Materials

During initial site visits, the ADC surveyed the old buildings, assessing their capacity to safely fulfil their functions, so that as far as possible their structures and materials could be reused or recycled. Expanding on this data, the fellows sourced materials within close proximity to the site to minimize embodied carbon. Over 80 percent of materials used in construction were sourced from within 50 kilometers of the site, with 75% of the budget spent in Ruhehe Village and Musanze district.

Concrete Walls

The two sweeping boundary walls are constructed from reinforced concrete cladded with local volcanic rock. Ruhehe is in a seismic zone, so concrete and steel are necessary, but expensive and not easily attainable. The architects attempted to limit their use where possible and source 100% recycled steel reinforcement.

Volcanic Rock Cladding

The volcanic rock cladding pays homage to the existing vernaculars of Rwandan stone working, but is built around a central core of steel and concrete to guarantee its strength and stability. The walls dip and peak following the profile of the nearby volcanic mountains turning the entire campus into a space of play and active learning. The peaks line up with the slope of the building roofs and the stone clad walls are exposed to the interior spaces.

Clay Roof Tiles

The fired clay tiles are a sustainable and locally sourced roof covering system made from clay sourced from approved quarries by local regulators. The tiles have better thermal properties that metal sheets and help to reduce the sound of rain, allowing learning to continue during storms.

Timber Ceiling

The ceiling material is tongue and groove Cypress boards painted with a coat of boiled Linseed oil.

Concrete Floor Tiles

Concrete floor tiles contain volcanic stone dust as a substitute for fine sand. The dust, which is a by-product of the cutting of volcanic rock, replaced 25% of the sand needed for the ground pavers.

Window Screening

Vertical woven windows made from tree bark and bamboo ropes feature operable lower units that allow fresh air to enter the classrooms.

Recycled Materials

Scaffold poles used during construction were up-cycled into fencing, play equipment, toilet screens and water tank screens.