Students in the Bachelor of Design in Architecture at the University of Sydney have been running a project to design and build a school building for the people of Ohlen Freswind - a community of families from all over the islands of Vanuatu who are squatting on Government land on the outskirts of the capital Port Vila as a result of the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Pam in 2015.
After 2 years of site visits, community consultations, designing and fundraising, the project has been reignited for 2019 with a new group of students and we are ready to fly over in June 2019 and begin building the school.
How can you help?
We are right now in the midst of our preparations and are working hard to raise the very final funds we need to make the school building a reality for the people of Ohlen Freswind. A donation as little as $20 will go towards helping us reach this goal.
Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam hit the South Pacific in 2015, and is regarded as one of the worst natural disasters in the history of Vanuatu. Thousands of homes, schools and buildings were damaged or destroyed, with an estimated 3,300 people displaced as a result.
How did we get involved?
Late in 2016, Mathew Aitchison, Ken McBryde, Michael Muir and Wendy Christie from the School of Architecture, Design, and Planning were asked to visit and discuss appropriate community development with the people of Ohlen Freswind, a community of families from all over the islands of Vanuatu who are squatting on Government land on the outskirts of the capital Port Vila.
The Government of Vanuatu is helping to relocate this group, some one hundred and twenty households, onto the higher ground outside the catchment area of Port Vila’s water supply. Land and services - roads, water, and electricity - have been provided for the individual households to lease and to reconstruct their homes. There is also a land allocation for vital community infrastructures such as schools, food markets and places of worship.
During that first visit, the people of Freswind set a community school as the most important priority - a community building that they could all be proud of. The school is to have an important role in supporting the diversity of the community by providing a place of unity and strength that actively includes the different cultures and backgrounds of all the local students and their families.
What are we doing?
We saw this project as an opportunity to fashion a compact between our school and the Freswind community, working together - students, staff and community members - in an ongoing relationship where everyone is involved at every stage of the project, from its definition to its construction and completion.
A group of sixteen students and four staff traveled to Vanuatu for ten days in July 2017 to visit the future school site, undertake preliminary consultation with community leaders and began building a relationship with the community. A research structure was formulated where students were tasked with gathering information, images, expert advice, local knowledge, opinions and thoughts on aspects of life in Vanuatu. The research was broken into five principle design areas – ‘working with the community’, ‘teaching and learning’, ‘designing for climate’, ‘designing for cyclones and earthquakes’, and ‘materials and construction’. Each day was spent talking with community members and leaders and local experts - taking every opportunity to find out how the school would need to be designed and constructed.
We began identifying patterns, drawing diagrams, taking photographs and developing a series of design principles to guide our project. Slowly a direction became clear. We were creating a broad yet detailed brief for a school to be specially made for the Freswind community – The Freswind School Project. The principles have also served as the foundation for the first pass at a single classroom design which will be workshopped, prototyped and fabricated.
We presented this work in an exhibition at the Tin Sheds Gallery at the School of Architecture, Design and Planning at the University of Sydney in March and April. This year, a new group of 26 students have refined final plans and designs and will be heading to Vanuatu in June-July 2019 to commence the construction of the school.
This project is has received funding from the New Colombo Plan 2019.