Architecture that makes a difference – Matipwili Trade Training Centre

“Together we can change the world, one good deed at a time” Anonymous

Whilst it may be physically over 8000km away, a strong connection has been formed between a small village in the Western Region of Tanzania and a group of students and professionals here in Australia.

What started as an idea developed for CEFPI’s (now Learning Environments Australia) 2012 Mayfield Project on the theme of ‘Schools as Sanctuaries of Hope’ then evolved into a ‘Learning Village’ concept to promote a structure and process to work with local communities in the planning, design, and construction of learning environments has been put into practice in conjunction with a 9 year long community service partnership between Presbyterian Ladies College, Scotch College and the village of Matipwili.

Building on this pre-existing relationship a group of students, architects, and educators from around Australia took the ‘Learning Village’ concept and worked closely with the local community to formulate a brief for a project that would provide an educational and community facility for the small village. Through the hard work of a team, including Perth’s Philip Idle and Chloe Summers, the vision, research, and planning became a reality in 2015 with the commencement of construction on the Matipwili Trade Training Centre. An ongoing project with further work still to be done, the initiative demonstrates how the even a small idea by a group of passionate and driven individuals can make a big difference to other people’s lives.

Architect Chloe Summers shares some background on the project and the difference that it is making to the lives of the local people:

A series of workshops were run in the village prior to any design work commencing. What came out of these workshops and how did that inform the final design?

The workshops were more of a design thinking process & based upon the Stanford University’s program – stages of empathy, define, ideate, prototype & test. The main object was to really understand the community and work with them to create a brief that may then evolve into a building. We didn’t know what the outcome would be or even if what we would do would work. So by the end of day 2 or 3 when they came up with the idea of the training centre it was exciting to find that our ideas through the process of empathy (where we walked through the village, observed their ways of life, proposed questions & discussed as a team) we too thought of the training centre. It was pretty incredible.

This process developed a brief that then evolved into a design (over 3 years) and it was very much through this process that generated the building.

Image 01 – The Collaboration
Image 02 – The Design

What have been some of the challenges that the project has come up against and how have they been overcome?

The language barrier is pretty challenging! We only have the one interpreter! The cultural differences made times challenging too. How we understand things, is not necessarily how a community in East Africa understands things. But it is as much as a learning exercise for us too. Matipwili was not about top design. It is about local people, local trades and empowering and assisting the way they do things. Sustainability and conservation are elements we would like to include and sustain within Matipwili too.

In terms of physical challenges, the rainwater tank was installed in a slightly different location and a different shape to what we documented. So we had to revise the design slightly. And this was all down via Skype!

How has the project benefitted the local community, in both a physical place sense and also in improving their skills or knowledge? Have they embraced the opportunity to learn?

Well, the rainwater tank is amazing. Annually 7 women are killed by crocodiles in the river, and the design included the tank for the purposes of laundry. But as of last week, we got an email saying that they stopped the women for using the rainwater for laundry and it was for drinking purposes only because the river was dirty and creating illness – whereas people last year in the community were really sick. Since drinking the rainwater from the tank, no stomach illnesses have been found. So that was a pretty humbling feeling. It helped further than we anticipated. In terms of the trades, we hope that the centre will assist with more sustainable jobs in the community and give the students who drop out of school opportunities to learn.

What have been the construction process for the project? How have the skills of local trades been used together with those involved here in Australia?

The rainwater tank was paid for and installed by local fundie (carpenters) in Tanzania, the blocks were an idea taken from Gary miller here in Perth, we went to a workshop and to his school in the hills to learn about how to make blocks, then we taught the scotch and PLC school students to make them, ordered supplies in Tanzania and then the students taught the villagers. The villagers continued to make the block while they returned to Australia. They installed some of the basic walls and then in 2014 we went over and assisted in constructing the “funnel” gathering space. They have since completed the shell of the building. It’s the education and the use of the building (and a few minor construction items left) which is the biggest challenge. The process isn’t just about a built form, it’s three things – the process, the building & the education.

Image 03 – The Construction
Image 04 – The Construction
Image 05 – The Construction

What has been the response from the local community towards the project and people involved in it? Has their attitude changed over time?

The Matipwili community are excited and have been in full support the whole way. We haven’t had any issues. They are a lovely community who are very grateful and really do want the best for themselves. So it’s been very rewarding

How important are projects such as these for both the people that they help as well the people that are providing the help? How has your involvement changed you as an Architect?

We are very lucky. It’s not often you get to see the power of architecture on a humanity level. Whilst we are aware that building can shape and change and empower lives, this building and experience shows you that something like fresh water provided from a tank, harvested from a funnel can actually save a life and prevent illness. I think that’s something that changes you as a person, not just an architect. Design matters. Education matters. It’s simple.

Where to from here, what are the short and long-term goals of the project?

Our goals for this project – to see the building be used as its intended, to educate those dropped out of school, a learning village, a place that teaches the community, strengthens it, empowers it – but from a local level.

Our goals for the process – to take this, to teach this and to do this for all types of communities. Simple really.


Further information on Matipwili Trade Training Centre project can be found on their website or Facebook page


Image Credits:

All images by Chloe Summers and Philip Idle and used with permission

Naomi McCabe

Naomi has been working in the architecture and interior design industry in Perth for over 10 years and has two main passions – design and travelling. This has led her to travel to some of the most influential architectural icons, both ancient and modern across all 7 continents. Her love of adventure and a challenge is just as useful when standing off against the mountain gorillas of Uganda or in creating unique design solutions to each project.
Naomi has an interest and appreciation of the importance in creating unique solutions that achieve a cohesive approach between the site, architecture and interiors of the built form.

Leave a Reply