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Mahiga Rainwater Court (Nyeri, Kenya)


The Mahiga Rainwater Court is a multi-purpose, full-size basketball court designed for the St. Joseph Mahiga Primary School and community in rural Nyeri, Kenya, north of Nairobi. The facilities include a shade structure that has integrated freshwater rainwater collection and UV purification system with solar panels for both the water system and night lighting in areas without electricity. The structure serves multiple functions for the school, acting as a sports facility, purified drinking water source, a covered performance space for local music and theater, an outdoor/covered classroom, and a dining area. For the community, it provides the area's only community meeting space and hosts their farmer's market. The full-court configuration has a 2,500 square foot playing surface covered by a metal roof and guttered to collect an estimated 40,000 liters of water per year. The building incorporates 25,000 liters of rainwater storage, with UV purification. In addition to serving as a major source of fresh water for the community, the complex includes a small stage facing the court, with a permanent, hard-wall backing designed as a movie projection screen. Community Design Workshops were held to highlight additional community needs and led to the incorporation of a multi-purpose room to be utilized in the future as a temporary health clinic and indoor community meeting space.


Mahiga collected drinking water

The Mahiga Rainwater Court is a multi-purpose, full-size basketball court designed for the St. Joseph Mahiga Primary School and community in Nyeri, Kenya. The facilities include a shade structure that has integrated rainwater collection and UV purification system with solar panels for the water system and night lighting in areas without electricity. ©2010 Architecture for Humanity

After a four year drought, the long rain season returned with a furry as construction began; great news for the community of farmers in the region, but tough on the construction process. Access to the site was closed for two weeks due to flooded muddy roads. At one point, the team tried to get a truck full of materials to the site, but the truck became mired in mud with its axles buried for about 26 hours - and even the rescue tractor was stuck in the process!

To design and build this rural school project, St. Joseph Mahiga Primary School worked with Architecture for Humanity/GameChangers and The Nobelity Project. The Nobelity Project is a non-profit organization working on solutions to some of the world’s most challenging problems. In the school’s collaboration with the The Nobelity Project and the local community, Nobelity brought electricity to the school, built a rainwater system with UV purification, a computer lab and other facilities. The Nobelity Project partnered with the Education District to also build nearby Mahiga Hope High School, a four-year high school with four blocks of classrooms and with an innovative, multipurpose structure that will be the first high school in the area.

The Rainwater Court is also a key component of the nearby new Mahiga Hope High School. The local community has two primary schools with approximately 400 students each. With all boys and girls admitted to the schools without tuition charges, there is an even mix of gender. Education in the area used to end at 8th grade, but Mahiga Hope High School now provides a full 12-year High School education for every child.

From Architecture for Humanit:

It all started with a tree. Joseph Mutongu, a local conservationist, wanted to introduce a tree growing program at the school his son attended. The Mahiga Hope School is located in a dusty rural village in the Aberdare Mountain Range in central Kenya. Most families are subsistence farmers and at the time were in the midst of a four–year drought. The school needed water to allow the tree to grow, but more importantly, to provide some clean drinking water to its students. Joseph took it upon himself to find a way to make it happen.

There were three options: to rely on the municipal waterline, which worked two weeks of the year; to drill an expensive bore well; or to develop an open–grid rainwater catchment system. A chance encounter with Turk and Christy Pipkin of the Nobelity Project created the opportunity for the third option. In 2008, Joseph, Turk and the school installed a simple gutter system on one of the school’s wooden structures. Rainwater was collected in a small tank and purified with an ultraviolet system. For a few thousand dollars, the school suddenly had access to a small supply of water. The team then had a bolder idea, to provide water for every student all the way to the end of high school.

For a rural school, access to water is the key for focused learning. Children don’t have to walk miles to collect unsafe water, school lunches can use clean water for cooking and for drinking, and safe access to sanitation prevents disease and ensures teenage girls stay in school. The idea was born of tackling two uniquely different issues: the desire of the children to have access to sports and the need for safe drinking water.

Turk and Christy worked with Dick Clark Architects to develop a concept for a rainwater court and entered into the Gamechangers design challenge run by Architecture for Humanity and Nike. As one of the winners of the competition, the school was awarded financing, construction management and a one–year design fellow who would live and work in Mahiga.

Greg Elsner arrived in Mahiga with a task to design and build a multi–purpose basketball court that would collect up to 30,000 liters of water, with a budget on par with a simple borehole well. Partnering with local architects Multiplex Systems, Elsner and the team utilized local hand–cut stone (Mahiga means “stone”), a steel structure that mirrors traditional Kenyan art, and a two–panel metal roof to build the 436 sq m (4850 sq ft) structure.

Going beyond a court, the architects designed a small stage that could be used for community meetings, movie nights and weddings. Like many institutional projects, this was more than a structure; it became a community catalyst. In less than 18 months student test scores jumped from the lowest to the highest in a district of 600 schools; enrollment in the high school tripled; the school had electricity for the first time; it installed a computer lab and a library and a two–story high school was built.

Mahiga went from a derelict rural school to a model education campus. When the court finally opened it had not rained in more than three months. More than 1,000 community members stood in the midday sun under a cluster of umbrellas to see the first basketball game played on the new court. As halftime approached, dark brooding clouds rolled across the skyline and by the time of the last shot, the heavens opened up. Most building openings are dampened by a downpour, but in the case of the Mahiga rainwater court, it was the best way possible to celebrate. Joseph collected the first bowl of clean water to nourish a tree still growing in a corner of the schoolyard.


  Mahiga High School Rainwater Court Kenya CASE STUDY (1,252 kb)