University of Pennsylvania architecture student Jonathan Dessi-Olive, this year’s winner of the Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA) Travel Fellowship, and three of his colleagues are taking an ancient building technology to Kenya this summer to demonstrate a sustainable alternative to wood construction, which contributes to the devastating deforestation problem in the region. The project, a hybrid wind- and solar-powered radio station on Mfangano Island in Lake Victoria, will introduce local craftspeople to the 600-year-old technique of timbrel vaulting, a system that uses thin clay tiles to create a geometrically-complex and structurally strong building.
Dessi-Olive will put his $10,000 RAMSA Travel Fellowship toward the project and is working with three of his PennDesign M.Arch classmates, Kelly Berger, Kordae Henry, and Erik Leach, to research, design, and construct the radio station. Kordae Henry and Kelly Berger were also awarded the the Van Alen Travel Fellowship of $4,500 this year that will also help fund the project. The team is currently crowd-fundraising another $10,000 to help build the radio station.
The Students will conduct their research on site this summer from June to August. “The research is centered around an investigation of timbrel (Catalan) tile vaulting, a centuries-old Mediterranean construction technique that has renewed interest due to its formal flexibility and ability to construct geometrically complex surfaces and structures,” Dessi-Olive said in a statement.
The radio station will be operated by Organic Health Response, an NGO that operates Ekaito Kiona Suba Youth Radio serving the 20,000 inhabitants of Mfangano Island. The station, powered by a hybrid wind- and solar-powered 500 watt FM transmitter, broadcasts health information to the rural community.The first timbrel vault prototype. (Courtesy PennDesign Team)