Ugandan Art Center Made from Excavated Materials

London-based New Makers Bureau has built a new Kampala art center in Uganda from materials excavated from the site itself – earth, wood and reclaimed brick. “We took cues from the idea of archaeology and excavation, literally mining the site for material,” says founding director James Hampton.

New Makers Bureau collaborated with Localworks on the project, digging holes in the site to excavate the clay-heavy soil. They mixed it with lime and sand to create low-carbon, rammed earth walls for the first phase of the development, comprising a café, interim gallery, art library and four studios, arranged around a courtyard.

A small portion of cement (6%) was used as a stabilizer for the walls, which were shaped in formwork made from wood salvaged from a dilapidated building on site and later reused for the roofs. Old brick was used as fill and aggregate.

The warm climate meant no insulation was required, so the rammed earth walls could be left exposed internally, and the building features almost no glazing, save for some slim polycarbonate skylights in the art studios. To prevent erosion in the rainy seasons, the earth building sits on a base of local sandstone and features large roof overhangs, which also provide generous shading.

The sandstone and rammed earth are topped by compressed earth bricks, again made from the soil on site. An open pattern in the brickwork provides dappled light and texture. “The building gets more expressive as it gets taller,” says Hampton, pointing to the twisted angles of the two roof pitches, the highest of which creates a clear entrance to the building.

The building is conceived as a nurturing space for Kampala’s artist community and visitors to meet, work, socialize and exchange ideas. Its second phase, due to be completed in late 2024, will encompass a gallery, four guest rooms for artists, studios, offices and kiosks, which will generate income for the not-for-profit organization, helping the center to be self-sufficient.

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