The Children House in Baghere is a humanitarian respond in tackling the uprising healthcare and development concern of child malnutrition, which is especially prominent in sub-Saharan Africa. It is intended to offer a warm and welcoming space where activities aimed at helping malnutrition children can be carried out in a rural environment. More than just constructing a physical shelter for the children, designing for the psychological aspect of the space plays an even greater role in nurturing the condition – to create an emotional space that reciprocate with the children’s needs for the lack of love and warmth, on top of protection.
This posts a set of phenomenological questions to the architecture: How can we add life and a sense of empathy to a space? And while the architecture is supposed to be a strong rigid shelter designed to protect against the harsh Senegal weather, how can we still create softness in it for producing the kind of calming effect akin to a mother’s touch, or a comforting hug?
The Children House thus responds to these challenges by exploring one of the most fundamental human experiences that is synonym to our everyday life – the “sense of touch”. The idea is further expanded into 2 perspectives that serve to guide the design of the space: First, how do our surrounding elements touch us? The light that reaches our eyes and touches our skins, or the air movement, or the heat…; Second, how do we touch the things around us? The tactility or respond, if any, with the object we came in contact with.
The design hence takes cues from the Baobab tree which is revered in Senegal as a nation symbol, known for its resilience. Impervious to most of the effects of weather and environment, in this case, is adopted as a metaphor of strength, coming on top of the battle against malnutrition. The bloated trunk is translated into clay brick walls that house the indoor spaces such as dormitories, washroom, storage, and administrative office. Supported on top of these is a weaving network of rosewood lattice beams covered with thatch roof of varying straw density. This assemblage of clay “trunks” and rosewood “branches” with straw “foliage” creates a canopy that shades the extensive ground which the play area is made possible outdoor, extending the visual experience across the site and leveraging natural air movement for better comfort. The varying straw density also creates a tessellation of ununiform gaps across the roof, filtering light through softly to the space below and touching gently on the persons, creating a calming outdoor experience showered by rays of light. Metal sheet roofing is then only added on top of thatch roof over indoor spaces deemed necessary for absolute weather protection.
In addition to manipulating light as an intangible material, the Children House also employs air movement around and manifests it into tangible experience through the use of curtains. Draping around the canopy, the curtains can easily be drawn open or close to partition the space accordingly catering for flexible uses as circumstances arise. Fabric as a soft envelop is intended to evoke the emotion associated with human touch – the soft responsive feedback as one runs their hand through it is always smooth and gentle; fabric is also often used by mother to wrap around babies – the tactility and experience is something that everyone can easily relate to, and hence the meaning is adopted into the architecture to enhance the experience of being cuddled and cared for. Utilizing local Senegalese fabrics, not only do they cultivate the sense of familiarity and warmth that welcomes the children, they also empower local community and artisans and getting them to be part of the project’s making.
The Children House is imagined as a space that is constantly animated by the surrounding elements – the soft rays that changes throughout the day with the movement of clouds, as well as the wind that blows on the curtains to create a gentle movement that seemingly reacts with the occupants. Here, people do not only occupy the space, but interact with it as if it is alive.