The landscape for Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture is a multidisciplinary effort to establish a diverse and healthy working, studying and dwelling environment.
From the design perspective, MASS Design Group found a delicate balance between complementing architecture with very subtle beautification, empowering campus spaces, immediate agricultural land fields embedded in the campus, the rural landscape outside the campus and nature.
The design for the campus is based on the health and well-being of people, animals and the environment. The plan extends to protecting two savannah zones, a wetland buffer, and corridors for biodiversity. It implements wastewater systems and on-site waste management and is overall a highly ecological plan. It achieves many goals relevant to the site, programme and challenges of today whilst considering localities, carefully interwoven in the design and building of architecture and landscape.See all LILA recognitions or visit LILA website
Landscape architecture and research-intensive collaboration can transform architecture’s environmental impact, offsetting carbon to create climate-positive design. In 2020, construction and operational carbon accounted for roughly 39% of greenhouse gas emissions, with agriculture linked to an additional 10%. The resulting climate crisis has reduced biodiversity and diminished the land-productivity of farmlands, amplified by population growth and architectural development. Rwanda faces a looming challenge to produce enough food to sustain its people: the country’s growing population has spurred rapid land development, decreasing the availability of agricultural land.
The Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA) will be the first climate-positive campus of its kind, leveraging a unique agricultural model, sustainably sourced materials, and off-grid power sources. RICA’s campus plan emerged from multidisciplinary research and analysis efforts to understand existing models of agricultural education within Rwanda, East Africa, and North America.
Design research explored agricultural systems, forestry, agroforestry, interdisciplinary curriculum development, and ecology, and included case studies of six international agricultural program campuses, and over twenty Rwandan agricultural schools, butchery, processing, and harvesting centers. The design team worked with the local government at all levels and immersed itself in the community to understand their cultural values, needs, and resources. This outreach provided insight into development patterns, circulation and transportation corridors, patterns of fuel, building materials, harvesting practices, informal grazing, and water use.
The landscape architects initiated extensive site analysis into the flora and fauna of the site, engaging ecologists, local historians, veterinarians, doctors, agricultural academics, and biologists. Their findings inspired design principles based on “One Health,” an approach that argues human, animal, and ecological health are inextricably intertwined within an environment. The landscape design incorporated this research, emphasizing biosecurity vectors, the protection of soils, the conservation of ecological zones, and the fostering of community engagement.
The landscape architects collaborated with the university’s teachers to develop a unique curriculum, featuring agricultural training, community engagement, and applied research through a One Health lens. First year students study smallholder farming; second year students learn on a national scale across five enterprises of agricultural development: tree and vegetable, row and forage, dairy, swine and poultry, and mechanization and irrigation; and third year students specialize in two chosen enterprises.
The One Health campus plan draws from regenerative agricultural practices, linking ecological and animal health through crop and livestock production practices that replenish soil, water and biodiversity resources. Two zones of savannah woodland were designated for conservation, and a wetland buffer was established to ensure appropriate wetland health. Ecological corridors connect the woodlands to the wetlands, increasing patch dynamics and allowing movement for animals, insects, and water.
RICA’s campus includes landscape, housing, academic spaces, barn storage, processing space, stormwater systems, human and animal waste management systems, and off-grid energy infrastructure. A central corridor connects the campus, and the design establishes spatial parameters for the campus enterprises, including biosecurity vectors for barns, circulation/feed routes, waste management, and pastures.
RICA’s is powered by an on-site solar array, one of the largest in Rwanda. The array supports a network of lake pumps, filtering stations, and irrigation systems. Wastewater streams guided the design, and a variety of treatment systems were analyzed for their replicability and appropriateness for the site. The campus orchestrates the collection, distribution, and storage of animal waste to safely support composting and fertilization.
RICA’s 20,000+ square meters of buildings and 140 hectares of landscape progressed across two phases, reaching completion in Summer 2021. Local employment was a priority: 90% of the 700-person workforce came from the Bugesera district. 90% of the budget was spent within 500 miles of the site, and 96% of building materials were sourced within Rwanda.
Considering all stages of the building process, RICA’s embodied carbon will be 44% less than the global average for institutional works. RICA is predicted to be climate positive by 2044, removing more carbon from that point forward than was produced from the campus’ creation and ongoing operations.
RICA will empower the next generation of leaders in food production, providing world-class education in conservation agriculture principles and practical skills in communication, leadership, and entrepreneurship.
Architecture offices involved in the design: MASS Design Group
Location: Gashora, Bugesera District, Rwanda
Design year: 2017-2019
Year Completed: 2021