The Mubuga Primary School

Architect:  MASS Design Group

Owner: MSquared Foundation

Location: Ruhengeri, Rwanda

Category: Merit

This redesign and renovation, born from a partnership between the Musanze District of Rwanda’s Ministry of Education and the US-based nonprofit M2 Foundation, has radically transformed one of the district’s lowest-performing and dilapidated schools into a scalable model of school design that now enjoys a 96% student pass rate. The project exceeded the national educational infrastructure standards and has proven that high-quality schools can be delivered without a significant budget.

In 2003, Rwanda, in an effort to improve enrollment, eliminated primary school fees. Enrollment skyrocketed, but the country did not have the appropriate classroom infrastructure to meet the demand. The resulting overcrowding and poorly constructed and maintained facilities prompted the Ministry of Education to enact new guidelines in 2009 that updated standards of school design. While the guidelines helped identify schools that were struggling, many facilities, Mubuga Primary School among them, could neither meet the needs of students nor address existing issues without significant intervention.

“This is a beautiful story of community, craft, and well-built forms that shape significant social spaces between learning pavilions." - Jury comment

The team began by assessing the performance of the school in relation to the new guidelines and discovered that it was performing over capacity and experiencing significant material, structural, and social deficiencies. Developed in concert with the local community, school administrators, faculty, and students, the design seeks to enhance the development of each child while addressing the school's challenges.

Classrooms, once on the periphery, are now the heart of the campus. In lieu of linear classroom structures, the design employs three new models that are bent to create covered breezeways and outdoor classroom spaces. By leveraging the interstitial spaces between each structure, the team created an array of equitable play spaces that ensure students of all ages and genders can engage in sports, explore mazes, or gather in outdoor seating areas.

New spaces for the school include five new classrooms, a library, a teacher resource room, an entry pavilion, and an office for the headmaster. The new classrooms are larger than the existing ones, and their orientation maximizes natural ventilation. The roof overhang protects students from direct sunlight during school hours, while clerestories allow diffuse sunlight to filter into the classrooms. At the entry pavilion, which doubles as a community space when school is not in session, parents have a dedicated place to wait at the end of the day for the nearly 900 students who attend.

Now a valuable community asset, Mubuga Primary School is a model for schools across Rwanda.

Additional information

Project team

Design team: Patricia Gruits, Christian Benimana, Alan Ricks, Andrew Brose, Annie Peyton, Theophile Uwayezu, Kayihura Nyundo, Christian Uwinkindi, Sierra Bainbridge, Martin Pavlinic  

Engineer – Geotechnical: Kigali Institute of Science & Technology Soil Mechanics & Geotechnical Engineering Lab  

Engineer – Structural: Nous Engineering  

General contractor: Daniel Ahintuje  

Furniture fabricator: Economat Musanze

Landscape design: Sierra Bainbridge, MASS Design Group


Judith P. Hoskens, Assoc. AIA, (Chair), Cuningham Group Architecture, Inc.  

Malcolm Holzman, FAIA, Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture

Dina Sorensen, Assoc. AIA, Learning Environment Project Designer & Research Liaison

Lawrence W. Speck, FAIA, Page Southerland Page, Inc.

Amy Yurko, AIA, BrainSpaces Inc.

Image credits

front entrance

Iwan Baan

outdoor classroom

Iwan Baan

classroom interior

Iwan Baan

outdoor maze

Iwan Baan

students at their desks

Iwan Baan