Ankarafa Field Station Madagascar

Sahamalaza, Northern Madagascar

Bristol Zoological Society has worked in northern Madagascar for over a decade, carrying out invaluable conservation work to safeguard the wildlife in this unique and biologically rich African island.

Part of their work has involved studying the behaviour of the ecologically and critically endangered Blue-eyed Black Lemur. The lemurs are one of the 101 endemic species of lemurs found exclusively in Madagascar, most of which are endangered due to the vast deforestation in the region.

Buro Happold was approached by the Richard Feilden Foundation (RFF) to provide engineering support for a new field research station located in the Ankarafa Forest. Designed to replace the existing out-of-date-camp, the new facility will allow researchers to increase the scale and effectiveness of their conservation work. Our team is working on the project as part of our Share Our Skills initiative, which enables our engineers to dedicate time to projects that need it most, without charging a fee.


The site is extremely remote, with it taking a day to reach Antananarivo from the UK and a minimum of a further two days to get to the site, depending on the season. So, a key consideration for our team was the delivery of supplies and waste removal, which had the potential to be both difficult and costly. In the dry season, the site was accessible by road, allowing for more flexibility when delivering materials. However, in the wet season, the site is only accessible by boat and then hiking, significantly impacting on our capacity to deliver and remove materials and equipment from the site.

The station’s isolated location meant we had to devise a solution that would reduce the amount of construction materials we needed to bring to the site. We also needed to help deliver a design that would allow the research station to be as self-sufficient as possible.

Exterior view of Ankarafa Research Station
Ankarafa Field Station will bring together research students from Madagascar and the UK. Image: Grant Associates


To develop a self-sufficient facility, the design includes composting toilets as well as a solar powered water pump that allows for water to be filtered, stored and used for the showers and for drinking water. These solutions limit the amount of waste the site produces.

The isolated location meant we needed to deliver a design that used as much material already available on site as possible. We have formulated a plan that uses Interlocking Stabilised Soil Blocks (ISSBs), which are formed from soil readily available on site mixed with a small amount of concrete. The blocks are then compressed into bricks using a manually operated hand press. The unusual interlocking shape of the blocks enables them to be easily slotted together, and only a minimal amount of mortar is needed between each layer to form a wall.

As well as providing an answer to the challenge of getting materials to the site, using this type of brick has further sustainable benefits also. Traditionally, the country’s construction uses clay-fired bricks, which are heated in a wood-burning kiln, therefore contributing to deforestation. ISSBs do not need heating, so no tree felling is required to make them. To our knowledge, this is the first time ISSBs have been used in Madagascar.

Model of Ankarafa Research Station
The building is situated in a remote location in the biodiverse Ankarafa Forest, which is home to a huge number of rare and endemic animals. Image: Feilden-Clegg Bradley Studios


The work to develop a sustainable research facility will ensure Bristol Zoological Society are at the forefront of research of the local lemur population, helping to preserve the species. As well as this important task, the field station contributes to the protection of the forest in a much wider context, providing a hub for conservation across the region and creating a link between the local community and the forest through education. The researchers hope to work alongside the local Malagasy community to further sustainable farming methods and construction techniques, with the aspiration of transforming the way the forest is viewed so that it is preserved for both themselves and for future generations.

Backpackers at Ankarafa Research Station render
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