Architecture Students Design New High School for Village in Honduras
In the remote village of El Rodeito in central Honduras, students who graduate from elementary school must walk two hours along hilly, rock-covered dirt roads to reach the nearest high school. The distance alone puts a premature end to the educations of many young residents who traditionally work on their family farm after sixth grade. Soon, however, they may not have to travel so far after a new high school designed by two AAP students is built.
Developing a high school in El Rodeito is the focus of Mayor Potencial (which means "greatest potential"), a nonprofit organization based at Cornell that was founded by Nancy Bell '09, a Cornell graduate student who grew up in the village. In the fall of 2015, a student club formed by Mayor Potencial started raising the $30,000 needed to start construction on the school.
After being selected to design the school, Liam Martin (B.Arch. '17) and Tim Ryan (B.Arch. '17) traveled to El Rodeito — population 210 — during the 2015 spring break and over the summer to gather feedback from students and community members on their sketches and to survey the two-acre site where the school will be located.
"I think the most fulfilling part was showing them the designs the first time and seeing their faces light up," said Martin, who is from Lexington, Kentucky. "It was actually really emotional. They were just blown away by the images that we showed them, and were eager to help further develop the designs with us." According to Bell, the presentation of the school design to the community marked the first time many of the residents of the village had seen a computer.
While working on the design for the school in Honduras, Martin and Ryan collaborated with the community and local builders in El Rodeito, and their designs are now being developed with a technical architect in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. Although the design is now complete, construction can not begin until Mayor Potencial raises $30,000 to pay for the first stage of the project — a building that will house three classrooms for the high school. So far, the group has collected $6,500 toward that goal through Cornell's crowdfunding website.
"The $6,500 we've raised to date is not enough to kick off the construction of the school," Bell said. "But we hope the Cornell community can come together and support this great cause and this great community."
The project will be developed as an educational campus that will include two classroom buildings for the high school and primary school, a computer lab and library, and a kitchen and cafeteria. The four buildings, which will be made of cinder block and painted sky blue, will be situated on a sloping terrace that will feature play areas with curving paths, a school garden, and two congregation areas for school assemblies and public meetings.
"Our design approach was to incorporate the existing structures into a new, cohesive campus," says Ryan. "The new classrooms will stem from the appropriated library and computer building to split our site in two. On one side, the classrooms have bare terraces available for academic use — agricultural activities, theatre, dance — and the other half is reserved for imagination."
To add unique features to the buildings, Ryan and Martin are crafting performative drop ceilings constructed from locally grown loofah, which will dampen noise between classrooms and work to direct air movement during the hottest part of the day They also transformed the metal grating that must be installed on the windows for security into sculptures that will be fabricated by local metal workers.
"Maybe the classroom windows could illustrate parts of the agricultural process," said Ryan, who is from London. "For the library, the windows could portray some of the Mayan myths with images of various creatures and goddesses to form a more fantastical space."
"The students are going to spend a lot of time looking at their classroom walls," adds Martin. "So we made sure to ask them how they would want to design the space. They should have a space that speaks to them, and to them specifically without being overly distracting. A space can become so much more imaginative and inspiring with just a different color or pattern on the wall, especially if you helped contribute to it, and that's a great feeling for a kid."
In a separate project, the two architecture students are also designing a guest house that would be used by the groups of Cornell students who travel to El Rodeito to volunteer in the elementary school or the local medical clinic. The facility, which is a 10-minute walk away from the school campus, would include two buildings that would each accommodate 25 students.
Martin said the experience of working on the project in El Rodeito has changed his career goals. "Seeing the potential of the impact we can have even before the construction convinced me that this is the kind of work I want to do as an architect," he said. "Design is needed much more by people who have less, and I would rather go where I'm really needed."
By Sherrie Negrea