Sharing our skills to create spaces for learning
As part of BuroHappold Engineering’s inspiring Share Our Skills (SOS) initiative, where engineers give their skills without charge, we helped design a sustainable agricultural training school in Cambodia. This admirable project creates jobs for local farmers, builders and students both during construction and in the long term, and teaches efficient, low-cost farming methods and technological practices.
The Samraong economy is heavily dependent on agriculture with many people migrating to nearby Thailand for work. The Agri-Tech school teaches new skills that allow people in the area to continue to live near their homes and families. Discovering how to grow and harvest different crops, raise animals and sell at nearby markets gives students the means to support themselves for years to come. This will encourage economic growth in the area and reduce dependency on goods and services from Thailand.
Working with the Green Shoots Foundation, an NGO focussed on food, agriculture and social enterprise, BuroHappold provided initial stage engineering (structural, sustainability, and building services (MEP)) for the eco-centre. Built from locally-sourced materials and collaborating with local workers where possible, the school includes classrooms, experimentation plots and water resource facilities. The main building also serves as a village meeting place and social hub.
The opportunity to participate in this deserving venture arose through our previous work carried out with Building Trust International and Edward Dale-Harris of Squire and Partners, founder of SAWA (Socially Active Workshop Architecture). The project serves as a shining example of what a small interdisciplinary team can achieve when gifted a few hours’ time.
The construction materials our team advised on are very different to what we are used to working with. We also had to use less conventional, low-tech, building methods which were outside of our usual design experience. Other challenges included working with the tropical climate as well as utilising local resources, labour and skills.
We advised on the concrete foundations for the school’s construction, offered high-level structural input on the steel structure for the building and answered ad-hoc construction queries during the build. A robust rectangular steel frame was used for the main multi-use hall, which includes office and storage space and a full-width screened veranda and corrugated steel mono-pitch roof.
Working with local builders, metalworkers and weavers, the school’s walls were created with mud bricks consisting of earth, rice husk and clay, with a cassava and sand plaster render. Woven bamboo panels keep the rooms well-ventilated and raised floors help prevent flooding. We also advised on a rainwater harvesting and filtration system, which purifies water for agricultural use.
Sharing our experience and knowledge with a community in need was a transformative experience, both for the local students and for ourselves. By developing more resilient tools and solutions, the community gained skills that will be passed through generations. In turn we discovered new practices and solutions and learned from a vibrant culture. Giving our time for free creates a purposeful and compassionate ethos that highlights how quickly we can affect positive change when we share our resources.
Services and approach
When we integrate our specialist teams around an approach, the benefits to the client multiply