Pavillions for Okana: A Community Center in Rural Kenya by Laura Katharina Strähle & Ellen Rouwendal

Back in 2015, two masters students, Laura Katharina Strähle & Ellen Rouwendal, from the Delft University of Technology, Faculty of Architecture took up the challenge to design and build a community center for the rural village of Okana, Kisumu, Kenya.

This formed their one-year graduation project, which saw them set up their own Design-Build Studio. Their goal was to design a roofspace of pilot pavilions which would use as a multifunctional space. They spent the first five months of the year focused on research in materials, local specifics and culture as well as climate-related topics. This was then followed by six months of design which saw them translate their research findings into an architectural language. The final project features a distinct structure of bamboo and brick that covers 560 sqm and was completed in 2016 in partnership with the Kenyan NGO Sustainable Rural Initivatives ( and the student organization Students 4 Sustainability (

You can find out more about the project from the official website and facebook page. and view more videos of the project construction here.


What if students were able to make a change for poorer regions of the world with a small-scale intervention in architecture?

Two students challenged this question by setting up their own Design-Build-Project and designing a prototypical pavilion structure for public use in East Africa. The combination of design research and architectural composition triggered the project to grow beyond a theoretic level. With the vision to show the feasibility and potential of the sustainably designed pavilion, the students Laura Katharina Strähle and Ellen Rouwendal developed a design for a community centre in a rural village in West-Kenya.

Drawings courtesy Laura Katharina Strähle

The research of building techniques, cultural and construction patterns resulted in the reinterpretation of traditional patterns of inhabitation and the final design. Managing the follow-up five month construction phase, acquisition of all funding and having the project leadership on site forms part of the students’ challenge to explore the potentials of a Design-Build-approach on academic level.

Images courtesy Laura Katharina Strähle

The design for the pavilion structure is inspired by the local Acacia Tree. Under the trees, people like to gather for being protected from sun and rain. By modifying the principle for a reciprocal roof by Leonardo da Vinci, the culture of the community is translated into an architectural roofscape resulting in a prototype building principle. The main structure is made of bamboo creating a 64 sqm column free space underneath. The shape of the roof, the open courtyard and the permeable walls provide optimal water catchment and a constant breeze inside. Simplicity, low-tech design solutions and an understandable design process are the most significant aspects to communicate and realize the project successfully with the local inhabitants, local workers and international students.

Within a period of less than two years, the students proof that the design fulfils its goals towards creating a design with a strong impact on architecture in poorer parts of the world.

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