In September 2008, architect Koji Tsutsui accepted the Ceramic Tiles of Italy award for designing a modern, white-tiled residence in Tokyo. One day later, he traded the spotlights of European design for the blazing gratitude of 200 children in central Uganda.
Tsutsui’s most recent project, Mukwano Village, is five hours by four-wheel drive from Uganda’s capital city of Kampala. Both orphanage and school, this eight-building encampment resembles a small village. It houses 50 children orphaned by AIDS and roughly 200 kids from the surrounding area—and it is expected to expand in the years to come.
Tsutsui, who studied under Tadao Ando, has learned to thrive in solving the challenge of boxed-in urban space, but rural Uganda presented a very different experience for the San Francisco–based architect. To construct the village, a local nonprofit organization also named Mukwano—meaning “intimate friends” in the central Ugandan language of Luganda—called on members of the community for their help. The resulting hand-built structures radiate out from a large tree that offers shelter for airy outdoor classes. “We really wanted to respect the big tree in the middle,” Tsutsui explains. “After all, it’s the oldest, most natural roof out there. And I was able to create spaces between the buildings, to cast shadows on the ground for the kids to play in, out of the hot sun.”
Solar panels were installed, helping to make the project not just socially but environmentally sustainable, and a rainwater tank saves trips to the nearest lake. “As the kids grow, they can extend this orphanage into an actual village, with more structures,” the architect points out. “And, as a vital part of the building process, they can use architecture as a focal point for moving their community forward.”