UW News

January 17, 2013

UW students envision designs for a school for girls in Afghanistan — with slide show

UW News

illustration of a school for girls in Afghanistan

Students Sarah Eddy and Benjamin Maestas set a Poplar grove on the school grounds in their design “to address deforestation and the lack of green spaces that characterizes Afghanistan, and Mazar-i-Sharif in particular. The students add, “We hope to create a delightful space that the girls can be comfortably educated in while establishing a sense of permanence and ownership.”Sarah Eddy and Benjamin Maestas

The classroom challenge: Design a school for girls in Afghanistan that is pleasant and safe, using available materials and accounting for unstable local conditions.

The result: The images you see below, created by students of Elizabeth Golden, assistant professor of architecture — almost dreamlike, reflecting both practicality and hope.

The impetus for the designs came from Janet Wright Ketcham, a 1953 University of Washington alumna and art collector who takes seriously the cause of girls’ education in war-torn Afghanistan and builds schools there through the nonprofit agency Ayni Education International.

Ketcham is funding the construction of a new girls school in Mazar-i-Sharif, a multiethnic, multilingual Afghanistan city near the border of Uzbekistan, to replace an older school being torn down. She brought the project to Daniel Friedman, former dean of the UW College of Built Environments.

Friedman in turn involved Robert Hull of the Seattle-based architectural firm The Miller-Hull Partnership, and Salim Rafik, a Kabul-based architect. Golden teamed with Hull for a specially created graduate studio design class in which UW students would work up their own designs for this far-away school.

design for Afghani girls school by Yasaman Haji Esmaili and Mariam Kamara

Students Yasaman Haji Esmaili and Mariam Kamara wrote, “by using local earth-based materials, the buildings seemingly grow from the soil and produce a gradation of spaces reinforced by an interplay of light, and shadows.”Yasaman Haji Esmaili and Mariam Kamara

Hull and Golden are right for their roles. Hull served in the Peace Corps in Afghanistan in the 1970s, and Golden’s area of academic research is the use of indigenous building materials in developing countries.

“The students were challenged with understanding the situation as it stands in Afghanistan, and understanding the issues surrounding women’s education in Afghanistan and all the implications of that,” said Golden. “The school has to be responsive to the culture and has to be situated within the broader context of that culture, which is very complicated.”

The students also had to factor in issues of the local economy and the relative scarcity of building materials. Wood, for instance, is extremely hard to come by locally, and steel and concrete would need to be shipped in. Even access to electricity cannot be assumed.

“The students had to do a kind of hybrid between more contemporary materials such as concrete and the more commonly used materials, which would be brick,” Golden said. “But the story is less about materials than about the concern for creating a safe environment for the girls to study — a place where they will feel comfortable.

Golden was very pleased with the result, as was Rafik, the architect, who will consider these drawings, and the thinking that went into them, when he designs the building, which is expected to be built this year.

“I’ve never seen students work so hard on a project,” Golden said.

“They took it very seriously. I feel like the images reflect the seriousness of the situation, but then, there is a bit of hope there as well. And I feel the images register that.”

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  • Read “Building a Way Out,” an article about UW involvement in the Afghanistan girls school in the December 2012 issues of the UW Alumni Magazine Columns.