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Building a brighter future in Siem Reap, Cambodia

 

Children at the Ampil Peam school eating in the newly built kitchen and dining pavilion.
Photo: Zachary Lamb

Photo: Zachary Lamb

Students in Civil Engineering and Architecture design new classroom structures for the Jay Pritzker Academy in Siem Reap.

By Emily Lo
Massachussetts Institute of Technology News
Public Service Center

The cost of education
is a heavy burden in Cambodia’s rural areas. Parents who cannot afford
to educate all of their children are forced to choose who can attend
school. Teachers are paid as little as $10 a month, and often eke out a
livelihood with additional jobs that take them away from the classroom.

With
the vision of creating a world-class learning environment in Cambodia,
the Jay Pritzker Academy (JPA) — in the northern city of Siem Reap —
turned to the School of Architecture + Planning at MIT for advice.
Founded by philanthropists Daniel and Karen Pritzker, JPA aims to
educate talented and motivated students from low-income families while
offering support to schools in the surrounding area.

Since
opening in 2006, JPA has outgrown its current location. As part of the
fall 2009 Service Learning class, Special Problems in Building
Technology – Design for a Sustainable Future, 17 architecture and civil
engineering students worked alongside professors Marilyne Andersen,
John Ochsendorf and Meejin Yoon to design classroom structures to
accommodate 400 students.

After researching the cultural and
climatic needs, the students designed an “ideal” classroom and an
overall master plan with systems for built-in water management and
natural ventilation. To inform the design and put real faces on a
seemingly distant place, students in the workshop were paired with
students from JPA. Throughout the course of the fall semester they
discovered what really mattered to their Cambodian pen pals.

“It was important for calibrating our designs to kid life and changing our perspective,” says Julianna Sassaman (G Course 4).

In January 2010, the class traveled to Siem Reap with the support
of the Public Service Center, the Jay Pritzker Academy, and the School
of Architecture + Planning. For two and a half weeks, the students
tackled three challenges: to work with the original campus’ architects,
LBL International, and further develop the design conceived during the
fall semester; to devise strategies to increase the comfort and
usability of the existing library; and to design and build a newoutdoor kitchen
for the nearby Ampil Peam school. The students split into three groups
and often shifted from one to the next, learning about the local
approach to the issues and offering their own expertise in turn.
The cost of education
is a heavy burden in Cambodia’s rural areas. Parents who cannot afford
to educate all of their children are forced to choose those who can
attend school. Teachers are paid as little as ten dollars a month, and
often eke out a livelihood with additionaljobs that take them away from the classroom.

With
the vision of creating a world-class learning environment in Cambodia,
the Jay Pritzker Academy (JPA) in the northern city of Siem Reap,
turned to the School of Architecture at MIT for advice. Founded by
philanthropists Daniel and Karen Pritzker, JPA aims to educate talented
and motivated students from low-income families while offering support
to schools in the surrounding area.

Since opening in 2006, JPA
has outgrown its current location. As part of the fall 2009 Service
Learning class, Special Problems in Building Technology – Design for a
Sustainable Future, 17 Architecture and Civil Engineering students
worked alongside Professors Marilyne Andersen, John Ochsendorf and
Meejin Yoon to design classroom structures to accommodate 400 students.

After
researching the cultural and climatic needs, the students designed an
“ideal” classroom and an overall master plan with systems for built-in
water management and natural ventilation. To inform the design and put
real faces on a seemingly distant place, students in the workshop were
paired with students from JPA. Throughout the course of the fall
semester they discovered what really mattered to their Cambodian pen
pals. “It was important for calibrating our designs to kid life and
changing our perspective,” says Julianna Sassaman (G Course 4).

In January 2010, the class traveled to Siem Reap with the support of the Public Service Center, the Jay Pritzker Academy, and the Department
of Architecture. For two and a half weeks, the students tackled three
challenges: to work with the original campus’ architects, LBL
International, and further develop the design conceived during the fall
semester; to devise strategies to increase the comfort and usability of
the existing library; and to design and build a newoutdoor kitchen for
the nearby Ampil Peam school. The students split into three groups and
often shifted from one to the next, learning about the local approach
to the issues and offering their own expertise in turn.

Working
with design-build guru Jim Adamson and alongside Cambodian construction
workers, students constructed the 4-meter by 8-meteroutdoor kitchen and
dining pavilion. Called a pteasbai in Khmer, the pavillion would host
Ampil Peam’s 200 primary school children, many who suffer from
malnutrition. The team had the opportunity to learn local building
techniques like methods for laying hollow cored bricks and how to use
simple tamping tools nicknamed “elephant feet,” made from bamboo
handles and sections of tree stumps. They also showed the locals how to
create experimental materials like rice husk ash as a partial
replacement to cement in concrete mixes and rammed earth for eating
benches.

On their last morning
in Siem Reap, they had an inaugural breakfast with the Ampil Peam
students under the newly completed pavilion. The children immediately
took to the new structure and began playing
hopscotch on the new paving, far exceeding the “kids per linear meter”
estimation that Zachary Lamb (M.Arch ‘10) and others on the team had
made.

These interactions and more made the biggest impression on Sassaman. “It was really awesome to connect with
part of the community through working with them and not just as
tourists. … being there long enough to see how people live and how they
build helped me understand how it all makes sense together,” she says.
“We still have a lot to learn from other cultures and expertise,” but
this opportunity was one step in helping children in Siem Reap build a
better future for themselves, their families, and their country.

Construction on the classrooms is slated to begin in September 2010.

 
Khmerization
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