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Students to design and build school in South Africa

Aiming to create a vital and vibrant structure for a growing community, Cornell University Sustainable Design, a student-led organization, will design and build a schoolhouse in Cosmo City, South Africa, this summer. To that end, the students have published a book -- "Schoolhouse South Africa: Comprehensive Context" -- describing their research and design approach.

Cornell University Sustainable Design -- formerly Cornell's Solar Decathlon Team -- has partnered with Education Africa, a nonprofit organization that strives to counter poverty through education. The new book is a compilation of their research -- full of case studies, local architectural history, details about the city and region, childhood development strategies, building sites, structures and a pre-design brief.

The book was distributed to libraries across the Cornell campus. It is available online.

Ultimately, this research will inform the design of a 6,000-square-foot preschool and teacher-training center, known locally as a crèche. Second-year Cornell architectural students -- and students from many disciplines all across campus -- will work to determine the final plans this semester for building the schoolhouse.

The crèche will accommodate up to 80 of Cosmo City's neediest children as part of a South African national initiative to improve early childhood development. It will include classrooms, a dining area, a kitchen, a health center, indoor and outdoor play areas, and an office. Interactive spaces will create a sanctuary for group learning, creative play and social development -- all without any electricity or solar panels.

The student team leaders include: Barry Beagen, Jesse McElwain, Jonathan Leape, Karen Chi Lin, Michael Jiang, Daniel Lu and Juliette Dubroca.

The faculty advisers are Kifle Gebremedhin, professor of biological and environmental engineering; Jeremy Foster, assistant professor of landscape architecture; and Aleksandr Mergold, associate professor of architecture.

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Blaine Friedlander