Priscilla Namwanje

A Ugandan architect Priscilla Namwanje has won the top prize in the LafargeHolcim Next generation Middle East Africa awrds for her Inter-scale design for community integration, a multi-scale design project for a neighborhood in Kampala to foster social interaction and economic vitality.

She gets to walk away with US$25,000 in prize money.

The LafargeHolcim Awards are the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design. The Next Generation category recognizes the visionary concepts and bold ideas of young professionals and students. In the competition region of Middle East Africa, the jury selected four entries to receive Next Generation prizes. The winning projects from Uganda, Jordan, Sierra Leone, and Iraq have one thing in common: an intrinsic optimism about the future.

“The issue of sustainability in the construction sector is of paramount importance because the construction and maintenance of buildings accounts for 40 percent of both energy and material consumption worldwide. In view of climate change and diminishing resources, new approaches are needed along the entire value chain of the construction industry. Developing and applying these new approaches are what the LafargeHolcim Awards promote. Every three years, the competition is held in five world regions and then globally. The prize money totals USD 2 million,” LafargeHolcim says in a statement.

“I think it is incredibly important to place the human at the center of architecture,” says Mariam Kamara, the principal of atelier masōmī in Niger served as head of the jury for Middle East Africa. And people are an important element in all four of the winning projects, which were awarded USD 25,000, USD 20,000, USD 15,000 and USD 10,000 respectively.

The jury included professionals from across the region: Zegeye Cherenet (Assistant Professor, Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction & City Development, Ethiopia), Linna Choi (OUALALOU + CHOI, Morocco), Joana Dabaj (CatalyticAction, Lebanon), Mohsen Ech (Research & Development Program Manager for Infrastructure Solutions, LafargeHolcim Innovation Center, France), and Heinrich Wolff (Wolff Architects, South Africa). Further jury members from the LafargeHolcim Foundation Academic Committee were Marilyne Andersen (Professor of Sustainable Construction Technologies, EPFL Lausanne, Switzerland), Guillaume Habert (Professor of Sustainable Construction, ETH Zurich, Switzerland), and Elli Mosayebi (Professor of Architecture & Structure, Institute for Technology in Architecture, Department of Architecture, ETH Zurich, Switzerland).

In addition to the prize money, each winner receives a personalized trophy featuring the Modulor of the Swiss architect Le Corbusier. The trophy base is made of ECOPact, a low-carbon concrete by LafargeHolcim, showcasing materials that enable circular flows and carbon-neutral construction. LafargeHolcim is the sponsor of the LafargeHolcim Foundation, which conducts the competition. “With their fresh ideas, the Next Generation Awards prize winners keep us at the forefront of sustainable and innovative building solutions”, says Jan Jenisch, CEO of LafargeHolcim.  

About the winning projects

1st prize: Neighborhood upgrade in Uganda
Uganda’s capital Kampala is highly fragmented territorially, socially, and economically. The architect Priscilla Namwanje from Kampala intends to bridge gaps in the Muyenga-Namuwongo neighborhood with her project. Thus, between the two very different districts, new connections and a network of public spaces are to be created: bridges, jogging trails, a marketplace, a train station, urban gardens, and cultural and recreational facilities. The district is to be transformed from a gray locality into a green social neighborhood. Walkways will be upgraded and will double as drainage channels to help mitigate flooding. The local community will be involved in the implementation of each step of the project. “Co-creation is a tool to solve the problem of community fragmentation, not just in the spatial sense but also in terms of policy,” believes the young architect. The jury is fascinated by the optimistic approach to transform a highly fragmented district into an attractive environment. The project improves the infrastructure, strengthens the social cohesion, and can be easily transferred to other places. “We liked that the project makes a link between an answer that is inherently urban and a highly localized human scale,” says Marilyne Andersen: “It shows a deep awareness of how we live and how we want to live.”

2nd prize: Cemetery transformation in Jordan
Cemeteries are often located in city suburbs. As the city grows, the burial grounds become more and more integrated into the city, at which point they occupy space that could be used in other ways. This is the case in Amman, where many cemeteries are in poor condition as well. This project – which the jury describes as a solid proposal that revolutionizes the architectural typology of cemeteries – proposes underground cemeteries. This can free land in densely populated neighborhoods to be used as a park or social space. Courtyards allow daylight to reach the lower level, where funerals are held and the graves are located. The project also includes a hospice, a traditional community building, a devotional space, a library, and a community kitchen. Winner Tala Shelbayh, student at the German Jordanien University in Amman, says: “Cemeteries should be transformed into positive spaces and help to enhance social solidarity.” She intentionally sought an out-of-the-box solution, and her efforts have been well regarded: “The transition from cemeteries being a place for the dead to them being a place for the living is an important one,” says Marilyne Andersen, “especially because the respect for the dead is maintained.”

3rd prize: Plastic recycling in Sierra Leone
Plastic litter is a pressing environmental problem in many parts of the world, including Crew Bay, an informal settlement in Freetown. The area is densely populated but hardly developed. And the river that flows through it flushes vast amounts of trash into the sea. The project by Evgenii Varlygin, student at the Technical University of Munich in Germany, envisages a three-stage low-tech intervention. First, the plastic is caught in a net that spans the river. Then it is collected and processed in a plant. It is separated from other collected waste, sorted, ground, heated to 200 °C with solar concentrators, and finally formed into new products, such as plastic building blocks. Jobs are created in all three phases. The proposed factory building incorporates recycled plastic panels and features an observation deck for visitors to view the manufacturing process. “The project uses simple means; the low-tech design pays attention to the climate and culture,” says Evgenii Varlygin. The jury considers the project a creative proposal that combines social, economic, and environmental benefits. “It goes beyond just solving the problem,” explains Marilyne Anderson: “It brings together job creation, leisure, and many more aspects into the question of plastic recycling.”

4th prize: Low-carbon education in Iraq
The Mesopotamian Marshlands of Iraq are a UNESCO World Heritage site. In order to preserve their natural and cultural value, knowledge about them must be passed on. However, educational facilities are lacking. This project aims to build a simple but highly functional school in Basra with classrooms, a library, music room, multifunctional auditoriums, and activity rooms. The principal building material is locally sourced rammed earth. The addition of a small amount of cement increases the stability. The hybrid material is durable and affordable. Parts of the walls are made with woven reeds. This allows light and air to enter the building. “I utilize native building materials, earth and reed, in an innovative manner,” says winner Noor Marji, architect from Ammann, Jordan. “There is a renaissance of materials that have different types of qualities, including their low-carbon footprint,” confirms Marilyne Andersen. The buildings are characterized by a series of modular units which incorporate arched forms, a traditional element of Iraqi architecture. The jury praises the reinterpretation of Iraqi architecture for being in harmony with the cultural and geographic characteristics of the region.

Main category Awards winners to be announced in November
The worldwide total of 21 Next Generation category winners will be presented virtually, whereas the winning projects and authors in the Main category will be honored at a hybrid event at the international Venice Biennale of Architecture in mid-November 2021. At this event, the 33 regional winners will be celebrated and the winners of the global LafargeHolcim Awards Gold, Silver, and Bronze 2021 will be announced.