Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mfangano Tile Vaulting - Project Abstract

Last summer I had the opportunity to travel to Mfangano, a Kenyan island in Lake Victoria, to participate in the construction of an Aquaponics system. I not only learned many hands-on construction skills, but also gained an understanding of informal design in developing countries. Throughout the course of my stay I began to see the potential for future design projects that could be carried out in partnership with the community and the Organic Health Response an NGO that has been operating the Ekialo Kiona Community Center on the island for over 5 years.

Omusiri Aquaponics
Mfangano Island, Kenya

The following project seeks to test a traditional building method in a place that most of the world has no idea exists. Both structurally efficient and environmentally sustainable, recent construction projects such as the Mapungubwe National Park Interpretive Center in South Africa by Peter Rich and The Sustainable Dwelling Unit in Ethiopia by John Ochsendorf (MIT) and Philippe Block have shown that tile vaulting is a favorable method of construction in developing areas that are dealing with deforestation and cannot (or should not) rely on wood as a primary building material. By adapting the clay tile, which is traditionally used in timbrel vaulting to a soil-cement-based tile, there is an opportunity to construct structures out of locally-made materials without the need for extensive amounts of wood scaffolding or centering.

Peter Rich & John Ochsendorf
Mapungubwe National Park Interpretive Center
South Africa

Block Press to make soil-cement tiles

The first phase of the research project will involve precedent studies and learning the timbrel vaulting technique. In-depth studies of historical examples by Rafael Guastavino and Eladio Dieste as well as contemporary experiments by John Ochsendorf and Philippe Block will help contextualize this project and inform physical experiments that are to be carried out at the University of Pennsylvania in Spring 2013. These experiments will produce a series of tile vault prototypes constructed under the supervision of Professor Lindsay Falck and Lecturers Fernando Vegas and Camilla Mileta (funding acquired from other sources). 

Raphael Guastavino
Baker Hall, Carnegie Mellon

Philippe Block
Funicular Vault Prototype

In the beginning of June, the student research team will travel to Kenya with the knowledge acquired through this preliminary research. We will first gather all necessary tools, supplies and building materials in Nairobi and Kisumu. Next, we will travel to Mfangano Island to begin more vaulting experiments with the local craftsmen called the Ekialo Kiona Sustainable Design Guild. We will fabricate stabilized soil tiles and construct prototypes to gain an intimate understanding of the ancient building method. The goal is to make a comprehensive technology transfer aimed at empowering the craftsmen with new skills they can continue to use and innovate. 

EK Sustainable Design Guild

Beginning no later than July 1st we will construct the Ekialo Kiona Radio Studio using the tile vaulting technique. This structure will serve not only as a demonstration of this building method, but the larger community being reached through radio broadcast. The data collected during the experiments and construction will contribute to a larger body of studies on timbrel vaulting in developing communities and inform the subsequent phases of this project.