Traces of Memory

Recognizing the importance of public buildings in rural areas as places for community gatherings, the project integrates local knowledge and skill into the production process, using metaphors adopted from the vernacular architecture.

The community of Chimphamba have been gathering for years in a church building that was near to collapse. The community has also outgrown the dilapidated building. As part of Youth of Malawi’s involvement in the village in Chimphamba they discussed the possibility of erecting a new space for community gatherings. These types of public buildings are extremely important in rural communities, as they must facilitate regular community gatherings to discus important matters such as food security, community challenges etc. Along with the chiefs of the village, Youth of Malawi asked A4AC to design and manage the build of a new church / community hall.

Our main aim was to create a building that could be built by the community builders themselves, but still to pose a challenge to them. We looked for inspiration within the community – elements of safety that the community could relate to -. Through our analysis of geometric shapes in the community it became evident that cylindrical forms resonate with safety and protection. The people of rural Malawi create cylindrical protection walls around small trees to protect them during initial growth from animals. Cylindrical bird / chicken coups are made from woven sticks. One of the most evident cylindrical shapes seen in the community is maze storage structures that the people store their harvest in.


These cylindrical structures are associated with a sense of protection & safeguarding. This was used as a metaphor for the design: as space that will protect and safeguard the sense of community in Chimphamba.

Essentially the building is a round cylinder, with three boxes that have been inserted into it. The boxes are constructed from local brick, to match the existing structures in the village. The 1st box serves as a foyer into the building, and the 2nd taller box serves as a ventilation tower. The circular shape of the building is also beneficial for acoustics. The ventilation tower generates natural ventilation through the concept of a heat stack. The tower is heated by the sun. This leads to hot air rising towards the top of the tower. In return this will create a suction at the bottom, drawing fresh air from the exterior.

The climate in Chimphamba allows for the walls to remain breathable throughout the year. This allows for enhanced natural ventilation. The light openings inside the wall was inspired by the previous church. The structure had many small holes in the decaying roof. Although this was not created intentionally, the resulted in small beams of light entering the space. This memory was replicated in the new church.

The main religion in the area is Christianity. The roof of the building symbolize a cross. The cross shape is roofed by opaque roof sheeting too allow for a sufficient level of natural lighting. In 2014 A4AC built a school along with the community of Chimphamba. Our involvement in this 1st phase was major. We concentrated on skills transfer during this phases in 2014. This time around the community could erect the new structured by themselves.