Kibera Public Space Project

Exhibition: Cities | October 11, 2011 by

Currently, one in seven people worldwide lives in a slum or refugee camp. Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) is a nonprofit design firm formed in 2006 to design and build physically, economically, and socially sustainable public spaces in informal settlements. The team of urban planners, architects, landscape architects, and graphic designers developed a community-driven process to build Productive Public Spaces (PPS), which use unoccupied waste spaces to address needs such as sanitation, environmental hazards, and income generation.

First working in Kibera—estimated to be the largest informal settlement in sub-Saharan Africa—KDI converted a former waterlogged dumping site located on a highly polluted Ngong River tributary. The new space features amenities and opportunities for microenterprise—community refuse is turned into compost for sale to urban farmers, and a pavilion doubles as a drying rack for water hyacinth that are woven into baskets and sold at market. Partnering with local contractors and engineers from Buro Happold, the site, open to all residents, also houses a public park, playground, rainwater-fed water tap, and a new bridge that shortens commute time.

Part of a larger vision to “reclaim the river,” several community-based sites along the same river form a network that creates a larger watershed and settlement-scale impact. Site two includes a sanitation center that replaces toilets that drained into the river, as well as a set of kiosks, playground, and park. Revenue from the toilet block, a kiosk bakery, and a wholesale brick-making cooperative will offset maintenance costs. The third sits at the bottom of a steep slope, into which sewage and waste drain. In response to residents’ needs, the site provides flood control and improved drainage and includes toilets, a water tap, playground, daycare, meeting hall, and a women’s health clinic expected to serve 500–800 residents. Two more sites are planned for 2012.

Applying these same design principles to other locations around the world, KDI has transformed a Haitian town’s open-air market into a PPS; local community group Tête Ensemble will design, build, and manage Bonneau PPS. KDI’s first site in America, St. Anthony PPS in Coachella, CA, starts construction in 2011. The productive space designs include a sheltered meeting space, play structure, community garden, and small-business incubator to help mobilize the area’s Pueblo Unido community.

Architects: Chelina Odbert, Jennifer Toy, Arthur Adeya, Luke Clark Tyler, Anthony Opil, Julius Muiru, Ellen Schneider, and Kotch Voraakhom, Kounkuey Design Initiative; environmental engineers: Byron Stigge, Joe Mulligan, Greg Tuzzolo, Buro Happold; volunteer collaborators: Yvonne Hung, Jean Yang. Community partners: Kiki Weavers, New Nairobi Dam Community Group, Riverside Usafi Group, Ushirika Wa Usafi, Youth Development Forum. Soweto East and Silanga villages, Kibera informal settlement, Nairobi, Kenya, 2006–10. Reclaimed timber and steel, stone, plaster, red soil, cement, gum poles, corrugated metal


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