How can the quality of space in public primary schools in the informal urban settlements in Kenya be improved?


 Architecture is the thoughtful making of space”Louis Kahn (Maina 2019). 

The analysis of the current state of classrooms in the informal urban settlements or slums as they are also known is examined by referring to the different environmental conditions (e.g. ventilation & air quality), physical conditions (e.g. site location and context) and socio-cultural conditions (e.g. health, sanitation and culture), found in these settlements. This analysis goes towards understanding how these different conditions directly or indirectly influence the learning experiences within schools in these settlements. The socio-cultural conditions response to the communities that largely live and work in the “slum” context sheds light on the different cultural backgrounds and shows how these cultures can be integrated within schools to create a strong cultural foundation that informs the quality of spaces. This thesis highlights the lack of proper educational institutions especially for the younger population in these settlements and aims to propose a design for an elementary school that ties culture back into the architecture to produce good quality school for young children (Maina 2019). By referencing the history of the education system in Kenya, this thesis project intends to shine a light to the genesis of the problem with relation to infrastructure or as Le Corbusier put it “We cannot escape the past or ignore the pit from where we were hewn.” (Le Corbusier 1937, x; Maina 2019, 1). This project responds to the need for good quality spaces that will in turn help the growing interest with social sustainability and architecture which has a social responsibility to design quality spaces that come with the need to equip the three main local communities (Kikuyu, Luo and Nubian) of Kibera slum in Nairobi, with the tools they need to afford them a better future.


Creating these good quality spaces for children, an architect or designer needs to understand the needs for children where nothing can be taken for granted but must be considered. Even when presented with a limited site, it is important to see the world from the perspective of a child to understand how to design for one, leave alone a school that accommodates 60 plus. The benchmark for any spatial planning consideration is always children (Maina 2019; Rühm 2018). By far one of the most important aspects of good quality spaces in culturally strong locations is creating environments that are community strong creating a vibrant sense of place. Involving the local community of Kibera in the design and construction of the proposed school will, in the least, create a secure place for the children to call ‘home away from home’ (Maina 2019). As such, the local community will begin to create, following the example of the school, their own ‘good quality’ spaces for their homes and the surrounding context which will strengthen their bonds and create a safe haven for their children and in turn afford them better futures.