School in Chimundo by Bergen School
of Architecture


Students from the Bergen School of Architecture in Norway have built a school building in a Mozambique village using sand bags, bottles and grass.

The building consists of an enclosed room for computers and a more flexible space with grass doors for English lessons, divided by a large sliding door.

A reinforced-concrete frame was filled in with sand bags and glass bottles were embedded in one wall.

The corrugated iron roof is supported over a wooden framework for ventilation.

The information below is from the students:

19 architect students, 5 weeks in Southern Africa, a school building in 12 days

Being an architect in a foreign culture

As one of the master-courses offered at Bergen School of Architecture, ‘Being an architect in a foreign culture’ emphasizes social and local awareness in the architectural approach. The student is to investigate and analyze the surrounding impressions and settings, and the role of the architect becomes a topic of discussion. This autumn of 2009, 19 architect students set out on a journey to Mozambique with no initial intention to build anything.


It was an emotionally strong encounter when we arrived at Sister Catarina’s daycare centre for disadvantaged children in the small rural village of Chimundo. With the help of the non-governmental organization Aid Global, Catarina also ran a trainee centre for teaching adults, which helps her cover expenses on the daycare centre. However, the lease was running out, and threatened the existence of the daycare centre.

After two weeks of registrations and understanding the logic of the place, we commonly agreed to build a school-building at Catarina’s plot for multi-purpose use as trainee centre in the afternoon and as an extended space for the children during day-time. With only 12 days to go we had to start straight away.

The building

With a simple structural body, the building consists of a closed room for computer-learning, and an open room for English teaching. Solid walls and the opportunity to close off completely make the computer-room safe in terms of burglary. The open room connects with the outside, is spatial with a tall ceiling and transparent walls embracing the light.

A framework of reinforced concrete makes a permanent bearing structure in the closed room. The framing allows for cheaper more temporary materials as in-fillings. We experimented with sandbags in the east and north facade, where they functions as thermal mass in the winter, while an extension of the roof prevents sun exposure during summer.

The shaded south facade has a glass-bottle wall for letting in light and keeping dust out. Bottles give an aesthetic quality, and make a good alternative to expensive windows.

The roof collects rainwater into a cistern and is made with corrugated iron sheets that sit on low-cost, self-made trusses. The trusses give a natural ventilation gap for cooling, and an inner-roof of cheap locally bought straw-mats filter hot air out.

Light straw-doors in the open room give a flexible use of space. The room can open up completely towards the inner school-courtyard to the south, and a small mango tree to the north.

The two rooms are divided internally with a large sliding door so that they can be used both separated and as one.

We wanted to stay within a reasonable economic framework and tried to use as much local materials as possible, combining vernacular methods with new interpretations. The whole construction is done in a demonstrational manner so that it is easily understood and can be carried out by the people of Chimundo. As a result, the building is in itself educational.

Location: Chimundo, Mozambique
Project team Students: Gøran Johansen, Stine Bjar, Silje Klepsvik, Larisa Sarajlija , Olafia Zoëga, Birgitte Haug, Tord Knapstad, Kristian Endresen, Anette M. Basso, Mathias Wijnen, Dan Paul Stavaru, Naeem Searle, Siri Nicholaisen, Maria Flores Adamsen, Monica Xiao, Irmelin Rose Fisch Wågen, Tale Marie Haaheim, Ina Bakka Sem-Olsen, Eirik Solheim Aakhus
Project team Professors: Andrè Fontes, Sixten Rahlff 
Project team Organizer: Bror Hansen
Client: Sister Catarina
Budget: 45000 NOK (8500 $)
Project year: September-October 2009
Sponsors: Bergen School of Architecture
Photographs: Ina Bakka Sem-Olsen, Tord Knapstad, Stine Bjar, Olafia Zoëga, Sixten Rahlff, Bror Hansen

Posted on Friday March 12th 2010 at 5:42 am by Antonia Anastasiadi. Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • gerardo p

    gorgeous !

  • ipm

    norwegian students make nice construction workers… ;-)

  • Andy

    Very nice, and for a good cause too.

  • Josep


  • great! simple and simply great !!!
    this makes the previous project (zaha hadid) even more horrible than it is

  • diego

    This is inspiring! Once again, a good example to follow. It would be fantastic if Dezeen could be more of a platform to promote this kind of example. Love the sketches and just love the guy cutting planks on DIY bench made from crates. Makes me wish I studied architecture!

  • Fritz

    This is good, very very good – real architure

  • Nickthegreek

    wow. this is an amazing project, well done!

  • gira

    the main picture… the black and white one looks scary. the building looks like a high security prison on that picture…

    on the coulored pics the building looks ok

  • nas

    excellent project

  • Balkan

    amazing!:) congratulations

  • Such an amazing work! How great is to be an architecture student and being able to work in a real project, for a real cause instead of being a full time computer geek, shaping virtual forms for no apparent reason.

    This must have been an unforgivable and mind-changing experience for those students! I just wish that I could have had that experience and hope that more schools of architecture around the world became to think is this way, to give a great experience to their students and to build something meaningful for those who need it!

  • intex architect

    really good stuff. keep it up guys !

  • D

    there should be more projects like this for architecture students, especially for such a worthy cause. all the flashy renders we so commonly see nowadays produced in architecture schools, albeit nice and pretty, doesn’t even begin to address the issues which were being tackled here.

  • George at Sarah Wigglesworth Architects

    Guys this is brilliant……. love it!

    Well done everybody

  • Abhi

    Great job guys !

  • gaque

    very very nice! thank you for posting something worthwhile!

  • Great use of the natural materials, clever design, and for a good cause, well done.

  • Adf

    Good charity architecture for people

  • GREAT ! Must be a cool place during the summer.

  • Mario


  • Emily

    Beautiful. Architecture at it’s finest

  • angry catalan

    Nice one, I like it.

  • idealist

    yes, fantastic project on many levels. proof that good architecture can be accessible to all, provided the talent is willing. truly in the spirit of mockbee.

    i was just saying to myself: i need to find wealthier clients to do better architecture and make more money… what a good smack in the face. thanks!

  • t

    fantastic, and excellent documentation photos, very helpful

  • Birgitte

    Thank you all for the support, it was an irreplaceable experience for us. Detailed slide show about the process can be found at our blog – there is also a film in three parts, however in Norwegian.

  • nick

    show us more of the bottle wall!

  • Juampi Z

    To Gira: WTF!!! Excellent job guys! INSPIRING! =)

  • Ayham


  • Evren Uzer

    This is great work, and shows what should really be done in this context beyond etnography work and just mapping. Congratulations to everyone, who are involved, BAS, having an interesting educational curricula carried out their one to one experience one step further. Very inspiring!

  • Gunnar Á.

    Simply great and inspiring in so many ways.
    Beautiful project!

  • Birgitte

    Nick: There are many more photos of the bottle wall + other details in the slide show called “Portfolio” on our blog :) Btw. in colder climates bottles have been fused together two and two, creating true bottle bricks, but since we didn’t need the insulating properties in this case we left the bottles open to the inside – which created small cylindrical shelves.

  • Christine

    Good work! More projects like this should be done!

  • Q

    beautiful project, this is architecture with a social intent rather than just the aesthetics crap!

  • Bo

    We should get more of these in Dezeen

  • Anna

    Seeing as this town is 24 degrees south of the equator, I’m not clear on why there is such an emphasis on shading on the south side?

    Presumably there would be hardly any direct sunlight reaching a south facing façade at this latitude?

  • AD NY

    Amazing work!

  • Tue Kappel

    this touches my heart

  • Ina

    To anna:
    As the sun is almost directly above, The south gets more shadow because that is were people stay, .. See further description in the compendium on or blog.
    This was tested as we designed.

  • Thanks for sharing this amazing work that we had the privilege of following and cooperate with in Chimundo, where we support permanently the day care centre. Feel free to visit the site of our organization and explore the ways you could get involved with the work AIDGLOBAL develops in Portugal, Mozambique and other portuguese speaking countries.

  • Richie

    Very inspiring project. Every architecture student should be sent to do something like this during their education, far more instructive and rewarding than more hours working on renderings and virtual buildings.

  • Birgitte

    Anna – to supply more info regarding Inas answer – there is actually not particular emphasis on shading on the South side, it is more or less equal to the other sides. However during the hottest hours of day the sun is not really much in the North, more like right on top of the building, this means that the South side of the building would only get a few centimetres of shading without the additional roof. This is also the official entrance area and the roof leaves it protected in the rain season. Wind directions and rains were also decisive for the design, not just sun radius.

    Not to forget the spacial situation we created that emphasizes the entrance – this is by no means just a product of the climatic situation – social aspects and the pure architectural spaces are as important – it doesn’t have to be all pragmatic even with little funds. Answers your question?

  • Rose


  • xtiaan

    woha whats that first picture all about?
    does it double as a prison camp/industrial bondage nightclub in the evening?

    dezeen bring back the scaless objects floating on a seamless white background all is forgiven…

  • sou

    this is what i want. it’s touching my heart sincerely

  • Dirk

    Amazing what you did ! I really love this.
    I’m involved in a similar project (building a primary school in Sabou, Burkina Faso) and would like to know if you are willing to help us out. We have just started raising funds and as I was browsing the net, I came accross your project. I love it so much, I would like to replicate it in Sabou.
    Is there any way you might share experiences and building plans ?

    kindest regards, and again, congratulations for what you achieved !

  • Dirk, on the website you can find an extensive PDF explaining our process. However we recommend not making replicas, as this design was result of the locality and the most available materials at the site, combined with what time and money we had. The best design is always a unique response to its surroundings. Good luck! And if we can help we have established a group called RÅ Arkitektur

  • Dirk

    Hi Birgitte, thanks for your post. It is nice to see the extensive PDF. It gave me even more insight, and made me "fall in love" even more with your project. We do not have the intention to copy/paste, but I love the way you did things, and got the local people involved.
    I'm in touch with Sixten Ralph in the mean while, and communicating with him about our project. It is really a pleasure working with him and his team ! I understood you are thinking of extending the project in Chimundo. I whish you all the best and if I can be of any help, let me know. Sixen has my contact details. Best regards, Dirk.