Based in Richmond Virginia, KaTO is an architecture studio which engages students of architecture & design, engineering, and construction to create social projects for impoverished communities internationally. KaTO seeks to create architecture as a catalyst to advance education in these underprivileged cultures. During Summer 2017, I traveled with a team of architects and engineers to help advise a student project team with the design of a community center/school in La Romana, Dominican Republic. I also served as the team’s photographer and cinematographer on site.
KaTO was approached by the local community to design an expansion to an existing school to better serve the region of La Romana. Upon visitation, the region is troubled with insufficient access to healthcare and clean water on top of a weak vocational education system. Serving the entire community of North Romana, it was quickly realized that the project could serve as a far greater stimulant for growth than just a school.
Since the community’s birth, the school become an integral part of the area. With a quickly growing population, it was not able to keep up the necessary infrastructure to meet the demands of all the families. Its classrooms were beyond overcrowded, restrooms were inadequate and support/swing spaces for recreation, dining and administration were severely limited.
During the design phase, many meetings and workshops were held to develop a fundamental understanding of the cultural, political and historical needs and how the people wished to grow. KaTO was tasked with synthesizing these needs in a comprehensive building program that would lead to a design that in place today.
Spread across three adjacent sites, the total amount of available space open to new construction was 1000 square meters. The new buildings set in place would grow from 1 floor to 2 floors and 3 levels for the kindergarten, primary and secondary schools respectively. This progression served to define a journey that could contribute to and celebrate a child’s ambition to pursuing the next level of education. It would be a path that all would take, looking “down” at what was and “up” to who one would become.
In an area without access to utilities and consistent electricity, careful considerations were made to adapt and orient forms to allow for passive cooling and natural lighting. Each new building is capped with a series of clerestory windows to not only allow for natural ventilation by allowing hot air to escape but also diffuse northern light to enter. With chalkboards along the south wall, classrooms are illuminated without harming the students with solar glare and direct sunlight.
The general design approach is based on the idea of flexibility between the community and school spaces. Both programs have access to the shared library, atrium and dining areas. Movement and accessibility is provided by a series of guided ramps, which are a celebrated means of travel in the buildings rather than an afterthought.