Homelessness is an issue affecting millions around the globe.
In the United States alone, it is estimated that as many as 1.7 million youth experience homelessness. Our neighbors in Central America are not immune to these effects. CINAFE, a children’s home in Managua, Nicaragua, is one organization trying to help children living in transitional housing, or even those without. In 2016, I had the opportunity to join a volunteer trip where we repaired roofs, painted, mounted a basketball hoop, and made new friends. While there, I learned the children’s living quarters were rented by the hosting organization and the facilities did not meet necessary requirements to maintain the health and wellbeing of the residents on site. When an opportunity arose for the organization to acquire a site in a neighboring town on the outskirts of Managua, there was one major red flag: It provided no direct access to water. With the support of DLR Group through the firm’s professional development grant, I designed a masterplan for the proposed site and helped determine the economic, environmental, and social feasibility of the move these children needed.
From an architectural perspective, I saw an opportunity to create a unique, sustainable community on an otherwise unusable site. The ability to integrate rain collection into the overall design was the necessary and driving force of the project. Open, concrete rain channels collect water from the grounds and building roofs to utilize a collection and filtration system large enough to support potable water for year round use. Five thousand square feet of roof will collect up to 3,000 gallons per inch of rain. Based on a month that sees 9 inches of rain, we can collect 27,000 gallons of rainwater per month. Combined with a 35,000-gallon cistern, this strategy can support 20 gallons on the site per person, per day.
The open rain channels also help define spatial programming for places of play, wonder, and education to create a sense of community and family for the children of CINAFE. After identifying the program goals and discussing flexibility of the space, I designed three identical homes for each “family” of eight children and a house mother. Along with the open rain channels, the homes define individual spaces and create safe viewing corridors across the parcel of land. With each unique space for the families to live, the children are given the ability to grow, develop, and carve out their own identity.
Future steps include working with the local government for approval to move the children to the new site. Immediately after, the rain collection system can be built and family homes can be established. Not only will the collected water help the children and staff of CINAFE, there is an opportunity to share resources with an adjacent impoverished neighborhood.
Architects have the power to put their skills to work, and grassroots efforts helping communities like this in Managua, one at a time, are the cornerstone of elevating the human experience through design. I am proud to be part of a firm that supports this mission.