The general African way of women organising themselves in organisations, with the number of members ranging from tens to hundreds, also occurs in Senegal. An active and strong women’s group attempts to ease its members’ everyday life amidst poverty and strives to guarantee them a reasonable ‘social security’. The schooling level is raised by independent initiative and literacy courses. The organisations supplement their incomes by selling home-made food and needlework. Also, they help women to adapt to the change in life in moving to the city from the countryside. Their activities have an organized structure, which means a step forward from the traditional social network created by family and friends.

The women’s centre, built in a suburb of Rufisque, offers facilities for the activities of the various organisations formed by the women. The idea and the spatial programme of the centre were born in cooperation with local women’s groups. The building was carried out as an NGO project through ‘Tekniska Förening i Finland’ and was financed by the Finnish Foreign Ministry, the Senegalese-Finnish Association ARC, as well as by scholarships received from various foundations. The plot was donated by the city of Rufisque and donations were also given by locals.

According to the West African custom, the building is grouped around an internal courtyard; the line between private and public is clear, albeit flexible. The simplicity of the street façades adapts the building to its surroundings; the corner facing a road crossing forms a small public square where the facilities reserved for commerce are located. The building’s red colour gives the house its own identity amidst the grey tone of the city block structure.

The building frame is a column and beam structure cast on site, with the walls made from concrete blocks cast in a mould and dried on site. The roof is corrugated metal sheeting supported by a steel beam system, with thick woven straw matting forming an insulating ceiling structure; the spacing between is ventilated, which guarantees that the indoor air is kept pleasantly cool. Localness and recycling is emphasised in the material choices; for instance, the use of wood is limited to only those places where it could not be replaced by any other material; and in detailing, for instance, old car wheel rims have been used as ventilation holes and the bottoms of old glass bottles for windows. The reinforcement irons in the concrete have been made from recycled iron.

The centre was completed in October 2001.

Source: Finnish Architectural Review 1/2002

Location

Approximate location

Images

Streetview, Women’s Centre
Streetview, Women’s Centre (© Juha Ilonen / Hollmén Reuter Sandman Architects)
Women’s Centre
Women’s Centre (© Juha Ilonen / Hollmén Reuter Sandman Architects)
Entrance, Women’s Centre
Entrance, Women’s Centre (© Juha Ilonen / Hollmén Reuter Sandman Architects)
Courtyard, Women’s Centre
Courtyard, Women’s Centre (© Juha Ilonen / Hollmén Reuter Sandman Architects)
Courtyard, Women’s Centre
Courtyard, Women’s Centre (© Juha Ilonen / MFA)
Entrance, Women’s Centre
Entrance, Women’s Centre (© Juha Ilonen / MFA)
Entrance, Women’s Centre
Entrance, Women’s Centre (© Juha Ilonen / MFA)
Entrance, Women’s Centre
Entrance, Women’s Centre (© Juha Ilonen / MFA)
Courtyard, Women’s Centre
Courtyard, Women’s Centre (© Juha Ilonen / MFA)
Roofed space, Women’s Centre
Roofed space, Women’s Centre (© Juha Ilonen / MFA)
Roofed space, Women’s Centre
Roofed space, Women’s Centre (© Juha Ilonen / Hollmén Reuter Sandman Architects)
Courtyard, Women’s Centre
Courtyard, Women’s Centre (© Juha Ilonen / Hollmén Reuter Sandman Architects)
Roofed space, Women’s Centre
Roofed space, Women’s Centre (© Juha Ilonen / Hollmén Reuter Sandman Architects)
Detail of the ventilation, Women’s Centre
Detail of the ventilation, Women’s Centre (© Juha Ilonen / MFA)
Detail of the ventilation, Women’s Centre
Detail of the ventilation, Women’s Centre (© Juha Ilonen / MFA)
Site plan, Women’s Centre
Site plan, Women’s Centre (© Hollmén Reuter Sandman Architects)
Section drawing, Women’s Centre
Section drawing, Women’s Centre (© Hollmén Reuter Sandman Architects)