SIDAREC Technology and Media Lab


In Summer 2011 Building Innovations Group (BIG) with funding from Innovations Housing, Inc., Architecture for Humanity and USA for Africa completed work on the Slums Information Development and Resource Centres (SIDAREC) Technology and Media Lab in the Mukuru Kwa Njenga slum in Nairobi, Kenya. BIG is a social enterprise specializing in constructing facilities for nongovernmental organizations using a self-help model. Two months after overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges, BIG finished construction of the center that is now up and running, filled with students eager to engage in its activities.

The SIDAREC Technology and Media Lab, designed by Seattle, Washington-based The Global Studio, gives Mukuru residents a powerful tool to end the cycle of poverty–including access to the Internet, computer and technology training, health clinic services, early childhood development programs, and a community theater.

The community center is a cooperative effort by the 50×15 Foundation and Architecture for Humanity, in local partnership with SIDAREC. Leaders from the three organizations met at the building site Nov. 17, 2009, to launch the construction phase and campaign to garner additional support to help “Raise the Radio.”

Join us in helping to Raise the Radio

Explore the SIDAREC Mukuru kwa Njenga Technology and Media Lab in this 3D fly-through!

SIDAREC Mukuru Center Inaugurates New Gate

On June 16, 2009, the 50×15 and Architecture for Humanity teams celebrated with SIDAREC and the Mukuru kwa Njenga community to inaugurate a new gate for the Mukuru Technology and Media Lab. The gate was designed in part through a community design process with about 15 youth, led by Architecture for Humanity Design Fellow, Isaac Mugumbule, and SIDAREC Site Director, David Mita. About 300 community members, children, dignitaries and media members were in attendance at the very successful event.

The youth summed up their design intentions, “SIDAREC presence within the Mukuru kwa Njenga community is like a rain cloud, one raindrop will not do much, but a number of raindrops falling down within a community is enough to allow seeds to grow into new plants. The Mukuru kwa Njenga community has a number of these seeds scattered within the ground, if one drop falls, there is not much change. SIDAREC cloud is dropping 7 packages in the Mukuru kwa Njenga community and within these packages are a number of other activities. These activities offer the kids and youth tonnes of opportunities to discover unknown talents and skills and for those with such skills within them, SIDAREC helps to nature and mould these skills. The gate represents the main classification of the services and opportunities that will be offered at the new centre. Each of the colours selected are colours SIDAREC has been using.”

SIDAREC Pumwani Center Destroyed

SIDAREC’s first resource center in Pumwani, the basis for the program of the new Mukuru resource center, was destroyed on the evening of January 28, 2009 in an electrical blaze. Thankfully, no one was hurt at the center, but very little remains. They have lost a tremendous set of resources, including the entire adult and childrens’ library collection, all the computers, their meeting hall, as well as the equipment for the community radio station, Ghetto 99.9 FM. Our thoughts are with SIDAREC, and we are redoubled in our efforts to complete the new Mukuru center as soon as possible, so the organization may have a new base of operations.

SIDAREC Mukuru Kwa Njenga Resource Centre Global Studio Blog

The Slums Information Development & Resource Centre (SIDAREC) Technology Hub is a sustainable, technology focused community resource centre in Mukuru Kwa Njenga, an informal settlement east of Nairobi, Kenya. The SIDAREC organization believes positive development occurs by realizing the concept, “Community problems need community solutions.” SIDAREC strives to empower the youth in Mukuru to generate community solutions and positive change by utilizing education and technology to harness the untapped potential the youth inherently have. SIDAREC’s ultimate goal is to enable the community’s youth to raise their standards of living and improve their community.

The design team also strongly believes that community problems need community solutions, which means community involvement must play a significant role in the design process. The first step of this community involvement began well before the announcement of the design challenge by Architecture for Humanity (AFH), AMD and 50×15. It began over ten years ago when a group of young people came together to form SIDAREC, and have, since that time, had a pulse on the needs and resources of their community. It is through their understanding of the needs in Mukuru and Pumwani, as well as an understanding of the global village, that led SIDAREC to develop the program of a youth media lab and library. In partnership with AFH, AMD and 50×15, SIDAREC launched the next stage of its journey to realize their vision of improving the lives of those living in the slums of Mukuru. The project design proposal by the design team is only one more step in this journey.

The design team has done its best to understand and address the problems, challenges and opportunities presented in the project brief, but even so, remains isolated from the day to day interactions of SIDAREC staff and the community’s youth. The design team believes that only through direct engagement and interaction can the community take genuine ownership of the process and become empowered by the design decision making process, which is necessary for the project to become an ultimate success. This proposal attempts to solve many of the needs articulated by SIDAREC, but acknowledges that without direct staff and community feedback and buy-in, the design remains ultimately lacking. The design team plans on facilitating several community workshops with SIDAREC and the other building users of the community to further develop the program and test assumptions which were made during the design process. Those would ultimately be incorporated into a final design, which might be this design proposal with minor adjustments and modifications or a complete redesign from the ground up. Either way, the design team believes that the building will only be a success if the staff and community are empowered in the design process to shape the building that will serve as a tool for SIDAREC’s mission.


The design team began by exploring four different strategies for organizing the program on the site. Each had different implications with respect to “public” and “private” space. An assumption was made by the design team to develop a site organization and building program which is T-shaped. This is an example of one assumption that would need to be tested with the community. The T-shape allows two outdoor areas to be created by the leg of the “T”. One of the outdoor areas faces the public street, and the other outdoor area faces the more private rear of the site. The more public space is developed as an amphitheatre and the more private space is developed as a football pitch and sports area. The amphitheatre gently steps down in elevation (approximately 1.5 meters) toward a stage, which is situated under the leg of the “T”. The top of the “T”, and bulk of the building footprint, is parallel to the eastern property line. This form of the building relates to the development pattern immediately to the east of the building. The building is pushed as close to the road at the north as possible, giving it a strong street presence and commanding attention from the community and passers-by. This strategy achieves the potential of developing a landmark in the Mukuru community for a civic building. Pushing the building toward the street also allows the existing clinic to remain.

A wall encloses the entire site to offer security to the building and property. The building is set back from the eastern property edge allowing vehicular access via a service drive, and also serving as a fire break from the adjacent informal settlement. Composting toilets and a non-burn medical waste disposal would be constructed adjacent to the existing clinic. Both of these technologies serve to reduce pollution by protecting the groundwater and eliminating the toxic airborne particulates associated with medical waste incineration. Building these facilities would help to minimize SIDAREC’s impact on the community’s environment, and moving them to the south east corner of the site would allow more space for the sports field. The design proposes a biological filtration swale (bioswale) to be constructed along the west property line and along the ditch at the street frontage along the north. The bioswale filters and treats the surface water run-off that can be a biological hazard.


The building organization began by making other design assumptions that need to be tested with staff and community. The design team decided to arrange the building functions according to varying degrees of public and private. The team assumed the pay phones, internet cafe and photocopying and printing areas should be placed near the street because they are the most public activities and would likely be the most “commercial”. The pay phones are located outdoors near the main entrance, giving them a highly public location, as well as the ability to have access to them without having the entire building open. The internet cafe, reception and photocopying and printing serves are located at the very front of the building immediately off the shaded entry area. The outdoor entry area could also accommodate several tables and chairs.

The library is also a public space, but one that does not need to be as close to the street. It is located at the end of the main building. Outside of the library is a shaded entry and play area to the detached day care centre. Although a separate building, the day care is connected by the same veranda as the main technology building. The day care is located near the play field and the clinic, giving it close proximity to play and parents attending the clinic.

The veranda serves as the main circulation spine for the entire site connecting the street entry back to the existing clinic. The veranda is covered by woven wood screens called wattle. Wattle is a common, traditional Kenya building technology. It creates a very beautiful filtered light keeping the building cool and effectively doubles the size of the building. In an equatorial climate like Nairobi, being outdoors in the shade is often more comfortable then being inside. At the far end of the day care, the veranda wraps around the building to become a shaded waiting area for the clinic. Outside of the library and day care are built-in benches for socializing and reading. There are also built-in benches along the ramp next to the amphitheatre for relaxing and socializing.

Separating the internet cafe and the library is a large office for SIDAREC staff, as well as access to the battery vault where the batteries for the rooftop photovoltaics are stored. The vault is constructed with thick masonry walls to keep the batteries safe, cool and dry. Stairs to the upper floor wrap around the battery vault from the library on the ground floor. Directly on top of the battery storage is another vault which houses the server and the building’s communications and data equipment. This storage room is also designed to be secure, cool and dry. The vaults are centrally located making communication and electric runs as efficient as possible. Next to the server vault is another large office for staff. At the end of the upstairs corridor is the computer training classroom, which the design team deemed the most private. It also holds symbolic importance of being elevated above the ground.

The other program component which is elevated is the radio station. The entrance to the radio station is immediately off the main entry reception. It is designed as a stand alone tower connected by the same veranda. It is to stand as a sentinel for Mukuru, broadcasting community education, public service announcements and entertainment to the over half million people surrounding the centre. It is a symbolic presence to the power of communication and technology. High on the west wall is a large translucent glazing area, which serves as a projection screen. Public health announcements, as well as community events can be displayed via a rear projection LCD projector. The moving images would make the centre a recognizable fixture within the community and possibly expand its reach.

The amphitheatre and stage are accessed by a ramp under the veranda. The ramp makes the amphitheatre and stage easily accessible and can also be used as informal gathering space. The stage is beneath the computer training classroom, which acts as the proscenium. There is an operable projection screen attached on the rear wall of the stage. Drama productions and video production could all occur making the SIDAREC Community Resource Centre a popular civic building. The amphitheatre is designed also as a storm water infiltration system. Water falling on the site that does not run off via the bioswale along the west wall and runs in the amphitheatre will pass through a rock, gravel and sand filter system. The stage is designed to infiltrate water into the ground, and also is equipped with a back-up pump in case of severe flooding.


The building systems are relatively simple and straight forward. They utilize locally available resources and local skilled labor. The building foundation and wall construction is “restrained masonry construction” on concrete footings utilizing stabilized cement earth block infill. Masonry is chosen for its longevity and thermal mass. A concrete and masonry building will serve the community of Mukuru for a long time, and the thick walls will help reduce the cooling load on the building keeping the occupants more comfortable and protect the computer equipment.

“Restrained masonry construction” is a concrete post and beam system that is utilized throughout the developing world, especially in areas subject to seismic activity. The block infill serves both as the form work for the reinforced concrete columns and beams, as well as, a thermal mass keeping the building occupants and equipment cool. Utilizing the block as two sides of the form work cuts down on labor and reduces the need for expensive wood form work. The stabilized cement earth block (SCEB) could be made from the earth excavated to create the amphitheatre. This is another assumption that would need testing prior to determining its viability. SCEB has the potential of utilizing on-site material, thereby reducing the cost of construction materials. The production of SCEB generates lower levels of pollution and has a lower embodied energy than other forms of masonry.

The roof construction is pre-cast concrete joists spanning between poured-in-place concrete beams. The beams clear span the 6 meter (20 feet) width of the building every 3.65 meters (12 feet) on center. Reinforced insulation panels span between the pre-cast concrete joists. The insulation panels are light-weight and keep the building cooler. They also act as form work for a poured concrete roof. The walls and ceilings are stucco and painted to give a smooth finished appearance. On top of the roof are rows of photovoltaic (PV) panels. The PV panels are held off the roof, but are kept below the parapet. Holding the panel off the roof shades the building from the direct sun, therefore reducing the heat gain of the building at the same time as generating renewable power. Locating the panels behind the parapet conceals the PV panels to deter theft.

The window wall is constructed of standard steel components spanning between the concrete columns and set on a slightly canted block infill wall. There are built-in computer counters along the window wall looking out at the veranda in the internet café and library. Each window wall and entry way is fitted with a coiling steel door. The doors are lowered and locked at the end of each day to protect SIDAREC’s technology. The radio tower is located on the ground next to the radio tower where it is braced against the side of the building keeping it secure and stable.

The veranda is covered with wattle in a steel frame that spans between concrete beams. The wattle is also applied to a steel frame applied vertically to the radio station tower. The wattle evokes traditional Kenyan building techniques, produces an elegant quality of light, and shades the window wall facing the covered circulation spine. The design team feels that the wattle speaks to the ingenuity and untapped potential of Kenyan youth.

Other sustainable strategies:

  • Composting toilets
  • Non-burning medical waste disposal
  • Bioswale storm water filtration and infiltration
  • Reuse existing clinic

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