Innovative low-cost architecture: building the Education Lab for under R70, 000 ($5,960)


A classroom with a collaborative workspace. All furniture and equipment was sponsored or reclaimed

Q + A with Fieldworks Collaborative on how to innovate for low-cost education architecture in urban spaces

1.) What is the Education Lab?
The Education Lab is an adaptive low cost build form merged with a high technology learning platform creating a beautiful, child-friendly space in the heart of the city that allows us to test out the relationship of space to innovative learning without huge capital expenditure.

The different spaces in the lab reflect the four rotations that make up the innovative school model:

This phase consisted of:

-Two classrooms – one for collaboration, one for instruction
– An auditorium for a project-driven learning;  and
– The computer box (our Raspberry Pi Lab).

2.) What informed your design?
We thought about what the construction process would involve and decided that the design should be legible, easy to construct, both on the specific site, but also viable for other sites and outdoor spaces. We drew heavily on sustainability principles:

  • Reduce: The construction method is designed on standard modules, which resulted in minimal wastage as doors and
    Assembling the auditorium out of reclaimed pallets

    Assembling the auditorium out of reclaimed pallets

    polycarbonate have the same dimensions. Dry construction means there was zero water usage. By using clear polycarbonate sheeting, natural light can flow virtually into all of the spaces therefore reducing our electricity costs.

  • Reuse: Wherever we could, we used reclaimed objects to build with: from insulation bats, to locally sourced up-cycled timber pallets for the floor and the auditorium, to up-cycled furniture and reclaimed wooden flooring. The ease of construction makes the system replicable as well as easy to assemble or disassemble, allowing the structure to move according to need.
  • Recycle: Not only are the hollow core doors largely made out of timber pulp, but polycarbonate sheets are also 100% recyclable.
Instruction classroom

The instruction classroom

3.) How do you get the cost so low? The modular nature of the construction nullified material wastage (essentially wasted money), The use, additionally, of a standard mass produced door as a dry-walling system allowed us to draw on mass production efficiency to provide a relatively large surface areas of walling as well as the essential rigidity needed to provide cross-bracing and thereby reducing structural member sizes. In addition to this, minimal power tools are required (a drill and saw) which contributes to the low number of kilo watts (about 70kW) required to execute construction. In the case where no power points are available, materials can be pre-drilled or sawed and assembled on site. The speed of construction and relatively low cost of timber as well as the up-cycling of found materials all contribute to making this a cost-effective build.

Edlab computer box b + w

Building the computer box

4.) What were some of the challenges? Apart from sourcing sponsors to cover construction and material costs, the transport of material to site carved away at the already strict time scale for project execution. Added to this the availability of a work force of only 3, made it difficult to adhere to a cumulative construction period of about 6 weeks.

5.) How have the children interacted with the space?

Children using the auditorium for paired reading and discussing work with peers and tutors.

Children using the auditorium for paired reading and discussing work with peers and tutors.

The space has had an incredible impact on learning. Children can move between the auditorium, the library and computer room: they are allowed to be free to explore as their curiousity drives them. In this environment, children can build focus, feel safe and feel stimulated through driving some of their learning. The Ed Lab build is proving something surprising and truly remarkable: a great space can support children in having greater freedom to drive their learning with tremendous success.

Children are allowed to read in the library whenever they have free time.

Children go to read in the library whenever they have free time.

Post by Fieldworks and Melanie Smuts

Fieldworks Collaborative formed in 2014 as a collective think-tank for young designers eager to explore the possibilities associated with architectural interventions as community based projects.

The core value of the collaborative is to create relevant interventions that are capable of positively affecting people’s lives in a meaningful way.


One thought on “Innovative low-cost architecture: building the Education Lab for under R70, 000 ($5,960)

  1. Pingback: Thank you for backing us. Here’s what we did with your contribution. | Streetlight Schools

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