“I de get you”

28 Jan

Our latest entry comes directly from Emily’s blog for MIT’s Public Service Center, enjoy her perspective!

Sheika and Desmond look at my updated drawings of the roof and make comments on how to improve it.

A typical meeting in Yele often combines drinks and business, although sometimes business just has to take place where the business is – in our case, out on the construction site. Anna and I have been working most closely with Sheika and Desmond who are owner and architect (respectively) of the local construction business, KadShek Enterprise. Just about every single day, we touch base with them to see the work that is going on so far and to plan for the coming days. Since they have both been working in Yele for a few years now and are native Sierra Leoneans, they have been critical for the design process and in mobilizing people to get things done.

We came in with some design ideas in mind, but in every step of the way – from the foundation to the roof and now talking about the doors and windows for the containers – there has been quite a lot of back and forth to refine and transform what we thought would work into what they believe would also be attractive yet suitable for building in Yele. For instance, I knew about the rainy season in Sierra Leone and so Zahraa (the other e-Luma architect, staying State-side) had tried to take into account roof overhangs, assuming that the rain would come in the same direction as the typical northeastern winds. We were hoping that the roof would become the main design element with the most inventiveness to transform architecture in Yele. But of course, the weather doesn’t always cooperate according to meterological models, and what we dreamed up in Boston might not work when made a physical reality in Sierra Leone. Desmond pointed out that once the rain comes in June and July, it can fall from every direction and every angle.

Making notes about the first round of mock-up trusses – the first round of 2 or 3 more to come.

Together we made some full-scale mock ups of the roof truss to see, in real life, what it would look like on the containers. The concept of making iterations or repeated design modifications isn’t part of the traditional construction process, so it was interesting to try and convey the idea that it takes a few tries and prototypes to get it right.

It has also been cool to involve more people in the design process and feel like everyone’s input is important. One day last week, Anna and I were back at the LHF compound for lunch, and Sheika just rushed in unannounced saying, “I have an idea about the roof! Where is a pen?” He quickly grabbed my notebook and started sketching, and promptly said, “Ok now here, you draw it good.” I redrew his sketch to get the proportions right and to understand his idea, and we agreed that this was a good direction. Remembering this makes me laugh because it was the first time I realized that this process wasn’t only fun for us, but that this was also an opportunity for him and the others to be creative. Eventually we came up with a final design that would work with the local climate and local skills, but that also was different enough to maybe inspire some new design thinking.

That’s why the phrase “I de get you” comes to mind. It is Krio – a more general local language, often called broken English – for “I get you” or “I understand you.” Little by little – small small – we’re starting to understand each other and move on the same page.

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