Jean Paul Uzabakiriho: Inspiring a new generation of Rwandan architects

Working in the Rwandan office of MASS Design Group, JP Uzabakiriho explains how the MASS philosophy is to encourage people to think differently about buildings.

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Graduating in 2014, Jean Paul Uzabakiriho is one of only the second classes of architects to qualify in Rwanda to date. He now works at the MASS Design Group’s Kigali office, under the leadership of Christian Benimana.

The group’s design philosophy, which Benimana shared at Design Indaba Conference 2016, is to create structures that have a transcendental mission: hospitals that help heal the patient and schools that encourage better learning. MASS also champions the Lo-Fab movement, where the projects are implemented with local materials and by local craftsmen.

“I really like this idea of MASS,” says Uzabakiriho, “they don’t really see a building as just a building, but they look beyond that at how the building is going to be used by the users.”

Uzabakiriho talks about how much he enjoys working on site with the constructions teams. In this respect MASS is an unusual practice: normally an architect supervises the build site but doesn’t have the chance to interact with the community. 

One recent project that Uzabakiriho was involved with is the doctors’ housing in Butaro, northern Rwanda, where MASS completed a community hospital. The housing is shared accomodation for the medical staff, many of whom come through Butaro for only short periods of time.

“What we are doing in all our designs is trying to do something new,” says Uzabakiriho. “We start imagining what can be done next. So when we are doing our doors and windows we think the shape doesn’t always have to be rectangular.”

The windows of the shared housing aren't always horizontal, but they do provide light and ventilation. Their unusual shape engages users and members of the designer community in discussion. 

“Everyone who visits the housing is trying to imagine ‘why this?’ And that is what we what to get: everyone to start thinking beyond what is normal.”

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