Commissioned by Edna Lenku, First Lady Kajiado & Olkejuado Foundation
Jeanne Schultz Design Studio (JSDS), an international design studio based in Barcelona, Spain, designed culturally responsive residential units with innovative motivations, to improve living conditions for women and children in the Maasai community in Kenya.
The architectural project aims to empower the Maasai people by preserving their cultural heritage through the creation of sustainable and inclusive culturally responsive residential units.
In order to ensure that the design was culturally sensitive, the Architects conducted researches into the cultural patterns of behaviour and longstanding traditions in the community. This approach not only ensures that the Maasai’s unique way of life is honoured while it empowers them by involving them in the design process.
The resulting architectural plan retains the traditional Maasai form, with extrusions for water control, latrines for all homes, communal spaces, and a spatial configuration that reflects the cultural way of movement through space. Each unit is a collection of different huts that were zoned according to occupancy and function. The kids’ hut was strategically fused together with the wives’ hut as one dwelling unit for obvious reasons.
In each culturally responsive residential unit, the living area was thoughtfully placed by the main entrance to receive or entertain guests and also to serve as a point of convergence for the rest of the family. It could be described as the public zone. JSDS zoned the kitchen and the convenience which are the service areas together and located them such that they are accessible by the other units within the compound.
Each residential unit has a common courtyard to accommodate outdoor gatherings, and kids’ activities as well as to allow for proper circulation around and within each functional unit.
One interesting feature of this project is the use of extruded light openings to bring daylight into the spaces and also to control the run-off speed of water down the curved form of the units.
In the typical houses traditionally built by Maasai women, there existed some issues that were solved by these culturally responsive residential units. The headroom is now higher to accommodate taller people who are mostly men. There is better ventilation and lighting because more shaded openings were created. Finally, the durability of these houses will afford the women more time to concentrate on other activities required by them around the house.
In summary, the culturally responsive residential units by Jeanne Schultz Design Studio in the Maasai community of Kenya is a powerful fusion of tradition and innovation. It enhances living conditions while preserving cultural heritage, symbolizing the potential of architecture to empower and uplift communities. This project showcases the lasting impact of design in creating a better future.