In humanity lies hope

Man is a social being – a belief and custom firmly embedded in our lives right from childhood. But the sad reality, however, is that these moral values tend to exist as mere principles and not one of practice.

The social commitment one has towards their community or mankind, in general, is often seen to take the backseat when put up against one’s personal life and career.

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Social welfare services need to be looked up as a duty, rather than a forced obligation. Your education and vocational skills gathered over the years cease to show meaning if there isn’t any valuable contribution towards the society.

Food, clothing and shelter are considered the three primary elements of sustenance; therefore it goes without saying that architects have a significant responsibility as creators of living spaces.

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Be it a large scale upheaval of a community, the construction of small dwelling or even as tiny as a toilet, the scope of interventions possible by an architect is tremendous.

Imbibing this belief in all its importance, the socially responsible minds of Estudio Cavernas, an architecture and construction non-profit organization based in Mae Sot, on the Thai-Burma border, have put forth a testament of how even the slightest of changes can radically transform the lives of people.

Situated in Mae Pa, Thailand, lies an island of green, a land 400 odd Burmese migrants call home. Decades of neglect, denial of access to fundamental socio-economical opportunities have resulted in dilapidated living conditions for these refugees.

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Most of them now earn a meager income through collection of plastic waste. For close to two years Estudio Cavernas has actively trained the members of this community by inculcating a holistic approach to capacity development wherein they are taught sustainable construction techniques sourcing local materials for the development of their own communities.

Acting on their eagerness to give back to society, the team of Estudio Cavernas have materialized a simple yet iconic community centre at the core of the settlement.

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Centrally located, accessible and a safe space where children can learn and play together – the community centre and its immediate surroundings have been radically transformed to address and fulfill the social, physical and cognitive needs of the children.

Reclaimed teak for the structural system and flooring along with sugarcane thatch for the sloping roof/ façade, all of which were locally procured and assembled, render a native character to the structure.

The community centre doubles up as a classroom that can further be divided by the use of a mobile partition, a bookshelf with an attached whiteboard enabling multiple activities to be undertaken simultaneously.

Owing to the persistant rains during monsoon, the floor plan has been elevated to avoid water damage and a low-cost French drainage system is constructed to mitigate flooding. The natural cove created by the towering trees in the backdrop provides an ample setting in the shade against the harsh sunlight.

The open gabled design of the structure ensures that there is unhindered flow of natural air and light throughout. An ingenious insulated roof design of aluzinc and thatch sandwiched by a layer of vertically placed eucalyptus creates an air chamber to avoid excessive radiation from the roof and thereby facilitating optimum thermal comfort within.

An access ramp that leads out from the structure is envisaged to additionally provide the children a space to congregate and rest between activities. The necessary sports equipments is stored beneath the side platforms to maximize usable storage space.

The football field lies adjacent to the community centre, along with several other learning units that specifically cater to activities such as music, climbing training, gardening etc. that encourage learning in an integrated manner.

The garden also serves the purpose of providing fresh vegetables for the community and serves as the foundation for permaculture learning.
The Green Island intervention reaffirms an interesting aspect of the Chaos theory or popularly known as the Butterfly effect: the slightest of change causing waves of change elsewhere.

Twenty families have built their homes around the centre with even more flocking in. The original concept of community participation, local ownership and belonging, all of which have been successfully united by a simple yet powerful will of social commitment.

Such is the power of architecture, architects and mankind at large. There is still hope in humanity.

Fact File

  • Project: The Green Island
  • Funded by: Playonside.org, Estudio Cavernas, Siemens Gamesa
  • Location: Mae Pa, Tak, Thailand
  • Architects: Estudio Cavernas
  • Design team: Juan Cuevas, Yago Cuevas, Denis Amritharaj
  • Built Area: Community centre – 57 sq.m , Intervention – 1590 sq.m
  • Year: 2019

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