Rwanda continues to mend its social fissures and shape a cohesive society, boasting humble yet innovative design solutions. One such project results from a collaboration including South African architect Peter Rich, a judge at the recent 2014 World Architecture Awards.

As a small land locked country in East Africa, Rwanda has had to punch above its weight to attract international investors.

Next year, construction will start on a new landmark building for the country’s capital, Kigali. It’s not a soaring skyscraper or a palatial casino complex. Rather, it is the country’s first international standard cricket ground.

To be built in partnership with the London-based Marylebone Cricket Club Foundation and the Rwandan Cricket Association, under the umbrella of the Rwandan Cricket Stadium Foundation, the project aims to create “a green and pleasant environment where Rwandans of all ages can develop their cricket and use these skills in their wider lives”.

The R6 million project comprises two cricket fields, a tennis court, swimming pool, gym and stadium pavilion, but a phased approach will see the main cricket field and pavilion built first.

Changing practice

The team that created the Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre are behind Rwanda’s new cricket stadium, along with the architect of the Kimisagara Football for Hope Centre, also in Kigali. Architect Peter Rich and Michael Ramage, lead engineer on Mapungubwe and based at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Architecture, have joined forces with architect Timothy Hall to form Light Earth Designs (LED), which will drive the project.

Hall is a British architect who was a partner in the UK’s foremost green architectural practice before settling in Kigali. He worked with Rich in South Africa before moving to Rwanda three years ago.

Africa has a legacy of developers, architects and consultants travelling to its countries, implementing projects and leaving, but as Hall notes: “You have to be there physically and intensively.”

While the architecture of the Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre won critical acclaim as the World Architecture Festival’s World Building of the Year in 2009, it was the combination of technology and innovation in a strong multi-disciplinary team that gave the architecture its expression.

During the latter stages of Mapungubwe, Rich was invited to lead a Rwandan team on the design of a national government complex, and at the same time acted in an advisory capacity to the City of Kigali.

For the cricket stadium, LED partnered with Killian Doherty, founder of Architectural [Field] Office, a practice focusing on community driven issues relating to housing and the city, and which operates in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Northern Ireland.

In turn, LED is spread across continents, with the founding partners based in three different cities.

The focus on sustainability brings its own challenges – practitioners repeatedly highlight that their traditional role has to change. Architects often become co-designers, material and structural engineers, logistics experts and employment consultants. Importantly, they need to acknowledge the entire social, environmental and economic impact of their work. As a key figure in South African architecture, Rich has been an influential voice in promoting this kind of thoughtful and responsible architecture. Sustainability, he says, “is not a flag you wave”.

Site specific design

At first glance, the Rwandan Cricket Stadium seems to duplicate the Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre but there are significant differences. Rwanda is situated on the Great Rift Valley, a seismically active zone. The horizontal ground movement during an earthquake could easily destroy stand-alone vaulted structures, particularly when supported on columns.

Ramage, who was part of the team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that developed the innovative thin shell vaulting technology used at Mapungubwe, explored structural options that would allow the stadium to be built from the labour intensive and graceful thin clay tile technology developed at Mapungubwe.

The result is a parabolic arch structure that will be tied into the floor slab to control lateral forces. Local basalt rock has been identified as a strengthening ingredient for the thin clay tiles used for the structural skin.

The land surrounding the main field is terraced, a common agricultural approach to landscape in Rwanda. The seating terraces wrap around part of the cricket field and disappear into the landscape where the three graceful arches of the pavilion building emerge and, like cricket balls that lose energy with each bounce, decrease in size.

As demonstrated at Mapungubwe, thin clay tile technology provides an environmentally sustainable structure and envelope using locally sourced materials.

Not only does the structure draw on traditional building methods, but, Hall says, the technology is used “to align the construction of the vaulting – using unemployed locals – with Rwanda’s flagship social protection scheme”.

The evolution of the thin clay tile building technology developed by Ramage and Rich at Mapungubwe is interesting to observe. A number of variants have been used in different contexts, from a prestigious office space in Chicago to a pavilion off Buckingham Palace’s grand Mall in London, a house in Kent, and a number of proposed applications in Ethiopia and Rwanda.

The new Rwanda Cricket Stadium will be a fitting tribute to the innovation, grace and impact of this technology.


The full feature appears in the December – January 2014/15.