BOSTON, Massachusetts — Thinking Huts is a Colorado-based nonprofit organization seeking to increase access to education around the world by harnessing 3D printing technology. The organization plans to build its first 3D printed school in southeastern Madagascar as early as 2021.
Improving Education to Improve Poverty
In Madagascar, school systems are largely underfunded, overcrowded and lacking essential educational and infrastructural resources. Maggie Grout, Thinking Huts founder, told The Borgen Project that developing countries commonly experience these challenges and increasing educational infrastructure may help address this. She added that tackling these problems in education goes hand-in-hand with addressing global poverty.
“If we’re able to replicate our concept in many countries and find a solution that can make an impact at scale, we can really address poverty at a really large level because we believe that education is at the root of solving many of these problems,” Grout said.
The Pilot School Design
Studio Mortazavi is an architectural firm and partner of Thinking Huts. It is responsible for designing the Madagascar pilot schoolhouse. The design includes a space for a classroom set up, two bathrooms, a reading area, an outside vertical garden and more.
According to Grout, the school, located in the island’s rainy southern region, will also include a rainwater collection and harvesting system, offering students and teachers access to clean drinking water. This is a rare feature for educational infrastructure in Madagascar where only 18% of schools have such access.
Many features of the design are dynamic, allowing for consideration of a community’s specific needs during construction. Grout says that in Madagascar specifically, there is a need for a vertical farm but other iterations of the building might include a rock climbing wall or other amenities. Another dynamic feature is solar power. According to Grout, schools in rural settings will often need solar panels to generate electricity while schools in more urban environments, like the pilot school, can be added to an electricity grid.
In the shape of a beehive cell, the schoolhouse is also designed to allow additional units to be attached at a later date, Grout says. Eventually, she foresees these units combining as a “pod,” with each unit offering students and teachers different kinds of spaces to gather and learn. Studio Mortazavi is currently working on the designs for these spaces, Grout added.
Striving Toward Sustainability
In its mission to increase access to education, Thinking Huts also strives for sustainability. By sourcing construction materials locally and cutting down cement use by nearly half compared to a traditional building, the pilot schoolhouse’s design reduces construction waste and is more eco-friendly, Grout said. The reduced need for cement is made possible by a honeycomb structure inside each wall, which Grout also noted will keep the hut structurally sound. Madagascar is prone to cyclones, making sturdy construction vital.
Going Beyond Infrastructure
In addition to construction, Thinking Huts plans to support the schools it builds long-term by working with local communities to put together curriculums for students. According to the nonprofit’s website, this curriculum will include math, science and literacy. It will also cover “life skills,” teaching students about farming and sustainable agriculture, among other topics. While the nonprofit’s initial priority is infrastructure, Thinking Huts also hopes to eventually implement an online learning platform that connects its schools and allows for a “collaborative learning environment.”
While in the short-term, Thinking Huts plans to focus its efforts on Madagascar, Grout says that she has long-term plans to 3D print schools in other countries. Thinking Huts has already received interest from communities and organizations in Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Uganda. With the first 3D printed school in Madagascar, Thinking Huts provides a solution that addresses education while simultaneously addressing poverty.
– Coalter B. Palmer
Photo: imgbb/Maggie Grout