Xewa Sowé Center for Orphans / Corentin Dalon + Arianna Fabrizi De Biani + Doryan Kuschner + Florian Mahieu

Text description provided by the architects. The Xewa Sowé children’s center includes emergency accommodation for 24 children, a food center to ensure self-sufficiency for 30 children, a large vegetable garden, a field of artemisia (an anti-malaria plant), a farm, a kitchen, and a refectory; a public center, accessible to the villagers so that the children are in touch with the community, includes a library, a study room and an office for the administrator. The project is based in Sowé, a rural village in central Benin. The site is on the outskirts of the village; just a few minutes walk from the main square. The plot is crossed diagonally by a side road leading to the fields. The village lies to the southwest of the center. To the east, a laterite road links the site to a motorbike route, which connects the village’s educational institutions with the main town 10km away.

Xewa Sowé Center for Orphans / Corentin Dalon + Arianna Fabrizi De Biani + Doryan Kuschner + Florian Mahieu - Image 7 of 16
Xewa Sowé Center for Orphans / Corentin Dalon + Arianna Fabrizi De Biani + Doryan Kuschner + Florian Mahieu - Image 15 of 16

The Centre is thus the synthesis of this multiple orientation of the site, as well as the desire affirmed by the local authorities to have an enclosing wall and two courtyards referring to the local domestic heritage. The project is structured around a large kitchen garden, the heart of the program, surrounded by a perimeter wall made of blockwork, to which the program’s three sections are attached. Each part has its own entrance, adapted to the realities of the site, depending on their degree of accessibility and need for privacy. The library opens onto the village, while the farmhouse opens onto the laterite path.

Xewa Sowé Center for Orphans / Corentin Dalon + Arianna Fabrizi De Biani + Doryan Kuschner + Florian Mahieu - Exterior Photography
Xewa Sowé Center for Orphans / Corentin Dalon + Arianna Fabrizi De Biani + Doryan Kuschner + Florian Mahieu - Image 16 of 16
Xewa Sowé Center for Orphans / Corentin Dalon + Arianna Fabrizi De Biani + Doryan Kuschner + Florian Mahieu - Exterior Photography

All the buildings are constructed in clapboard, but the roof shapes differ depending on the program. The technical buildings are covered in corrugated iron, while the residential buildings are covered in straw to keep the interior cool. The Centre refers back to local building cultures, both in the technique used – clapboard – and in its form, adapting the courtyard logic of royal houses and palaces while asserting its contemporary character.  All the materials, with the exception of the concrete used for the slabs and foundations, were sourced from around the village. All are within a radius of around thirty kilometers. So, a whole local economy has been generated. This proximity has reduced the economic and environmental costs of transport.

Xewa Sowé Center for Orphans / Corentin Dalon + Arianna Fabrizi De Biani + Doryan Kuschner + Florian Mahieu - Image 9 of 16
Xewa Sowé Center for Orphans / Corentin Dalon + Arianna Fabrizi De Biani + Doryan Kuschner + Florian Mahieu - Image 13 of 16
Xewa Sowé Center for Orphans / Corentin Dalon + Arianna Fabrizi De Biani + Doryan Kuschner + Florian Mahieu - Interior Photography, Beam

What’s more, the work was carried out by hand, from the excavation of the foundations to the roofing of the buildings. As a result, the grey energy required to build the Centre has been drastically reduced, from the extraction of materials to their installation and transport. Finally, the soil used for the walls has not been stabilized so that it can be returned to the soil or reused. What’s more, thanks to the intrinsic qualities of the materials used and the shape of the roofs, the buildings are naturally ventilated. In fact, thanks to the inertia and thermal phase shift of the raw earth and the natural insulation provided by the straw, the interiors have a naturally regulated temperature, cool during the day and warm in the evening. The library’s roof structure is asymmetrical to allow air and natural light to circulate, with the main roof section facing away from the prevailing north wind.

Xewa Sowé Center for Orphans / Corentin Dalon + Arianna Fabrizi De Biani + Doryan Kuschner + Florian Mahieu - Exterior Photography

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