GAC: Masoro Village Project

General Architecture Collaborative believes everyone has a right to good design and to master the technology required to build their own environment.

There is a paradox in contemporary design: Kate Stohr of Architecture for Humanity claims that “Right now, only a tiny percentage of the global population benefits from architecture. Despite this, most construction activity is taking place in emerging countries.” Spurred on by the example of this non-profit association, in recent years, several groups have emerged that use volunteers, collect funds and construct good-quality buildings in the poorest parts of the world.
The American collective GAC (General Architecture Collaborative) is based in Boston, Charlottesville, New York, San Francisco and Syracuse, and works in Bangladesh, Haiti, Rwanda, Sudan and Albania. GAC goes a step further. As well as sourcing the funding and architectural design, it helps the local populations to gain theoretical and manual knowhow of construction methods. The results are twofold: on the one hand, the local people acquire a practical skill that can be used again on subsequent occasions; on the other, they are involved in an appropriation process that ensures the buildings will be well maintained.
Top and above: the house prototype designed by GAC and the students of the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology for Masoro, a rural Rwandan village. In the initial phase, 50 inhabitants attended a three-week workshop to learn to use EarthBag technology
The Masoro Village Project is GAC’s latest initiative. Completed last summer under the supervision of Yutaka Sho, an assistant professor at the Syracuse University School of Architecture, it involved Masoro, a rural village north of the Rwandan capital Kigali. Assisted by students from the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), the only university in the country to have an architectural programme, Yutaka Sho asked 50 residents to attend a three-week “EarthBag” workshop. This project is the direct consequence of a Rwandan Government plan to redistribute the population in planned housing settlements. People who rent land locally are often forced by the owners to leave and move to different areas where they lack the means to build a home for themselves.
Women played a major role in the construction phase, helping with the heaviest task. The walls are made of polypropylene bags filled with soil (video below by Alex MacInnis)

GAC suggested the inhabitants of Masoro adopt EarthBag, a low-cost building technology previously adopted to construct bunkers and adapted for civil purposes by Johnny Anderton of Eternally Solar, a South African agency. EarthBags are polypropylene bags that are filled with soil, stacked one on top of the other to build walls and subsequently made stable. This means that concrete, a high-cost and imported material, is only used for the foundations and door and window lintels. It is somewhat ironic to have employed polypropylene as a component in sustainable construction because, as a waste product of oil production, it will be around for a long time and it is also virtually indestructible when protected from the sun’s rays.


Yutaka Sho and the students from KIST taught the people of Masoro to build a house in three months using EarthBags. They also provided some design input so that the new houses are suited to the regional lifestyles and weather conditions. The house plan includes a porch with a sloping roof, meaning that, during the rainy season, the residents are able to do chores traditionally executed outdoors such as cooking, washing clothes and drying beans and manioc under cover.

The locals wove the external grilles in special patterns
Lifestyles are closely linked to the female condition and home management but the construction of this prototype in the village of Masoro gave women a different role. Yutaka Sho and the students of KIST encouraged female workers to help not only by executing the details and weaving the outside grilles in multicoloured geometrical patterns but also by participating in the construction works. GAC hopes the KIST students will adopt this sustainable technology on other occasions.
Funding for the construction of the Masoro Village Project is sourced via the GAC website and the sale of artworks specially produced by 14 American artists
This first prototype is part of a bigger plan – the Fund-A-House Project – which, in collaboration with the women’s association Dushygikirane, plans to construct 50 dwellings in Masoro. The Fund-A-House Project is part financed via GAC press campaigns and the online sale of textile designs by 14 American artists. At a later stage, the women of Dushygikirane will print these designs on fabric.
The floor plan includes covered open spaces that offer protection during the rainy season for tasks normally done outdoors

The Masoro Village Project, Masoro Sector,
Rulindo District, Rwanda
Architectural design:
GA Collaborative
Design team:
Yutaka Sho (principal designer and construction manager, GAC); James Setzler (designer and construction manager, GAC); Michael Beaman (designer and graphics, GAC); Zaneta Hong (designer and graphics, GAC); Killian Doherty (KD|AP, consultant); Rwandan architecture student partners from Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) – Theophile Uwayezu, Doreen Ingabire, Rene Isabane, Patrice Ndababonye
Structural consultant:
Johnny Anderton, Eternally Solar,
South Africa
Construction supervision:
GA Collaborative with Rwandan architecture students Riaan Hough, EarthKaya, South Africa
Solar lamps:
Great Lakes Energy, Rwanda
Landscape design:
GA Collaborative
Compacted earth floor:
Earthenable, USA
People of Masoro, Association Dushyigikirane
Built area:
86 m² (gross)
7,865 Euros
Design phase:
November 2011 – June 2013
Construction phase:
June 2013 – September 2013


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