Shipping a Vernacular Village Out to Africa

Shipping a Vernacular Village Out to Africa

A prefabricated community center could become a model for simple vernacular architecture in Kenya.
Courtesy Philippe Barriere Collective

The multifunctional prefab pod can be reconfigured and linked to other pods.

In the burgeoning village of Maai Mahiu, Kenya, there is no method to the madness of development. An architect, an engineer, and a nonprofit organization hope to change that. At the November First Friday’s event at the Missouri Crossroads Arts District in Kansas City, nonprofit Comfort the Children (CTC)— which promotes community development through education, environment, economic, and health initiatives—showcased a pre-fabricated community center that it hopes will become a model for simple, high-quality vernacular architecture.

The community center was designed by architect Philippe Barriere, founder of the Philippe Barriere Collective, with help from William Zahner of A. Zahner Company, an architectural metal and glass fabricator; the structure will remain in Kansas City for the next few months on display to raise awareness and money. In mid-2011, it will be dismantled and sent to Kenya for reassembly by local workers trained by a contingent from Zahner. Zane Wileman, executive director of CTC, said his organization “is about education and empowerment, so we work with the local population to help them build themselves out of poverty.”

A proponent of multi-transitional growth housing, Barriere said his design is slated to be the first of many such installations on the Kenyan site. As funding allows through partnerships and donations, structures will organically grow into each other over time. Said Barriere, “Each prototype is organized to create a rhythm in which they eventually reach each other to make a coherent whole.” Wileman explained that these structures would serve as a hub for future development.

Zahner and Barriere have worked together on other projects, and the design is again the product of their collaboration. They posed the question of what is the easiest, cheapest, and simplest archetype to build, which turned out to be the arch. Each prototype (community center, medical facility, sewing school/factory, children with special needs facility, multi-purpose recreation facility, and a public library/internet cafe) introduces what Barriere called “high simplicity” to local development.

The 12.5-acre site in Kenya’s Rift Valley is being prepared with a water well, landscaping, and a soccer field.


“This first project allowed us to test construction, cost, and scalability of each structure as it grows,” Zahner said. All structures are scheduled for completion in phases by 2013. Until then, the 12.5-acre site in Kenya’s Rift Valley is being prepared with a water well, landscaping, and a soccer field.