Fass School and Teachers' Residences

Architect: Toshiko Mori Architect

Owner:  The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Le Korsa

Location: Fass, Senegal

Inspired by the German one-room schoolhouse where Josef Albers once taught, this new school in a remote region of Senegal is the first there to offer secular education in tandem with Quranic teaching. The school serves about 300 students ranging in age from 5 to 10 in a co-educational environment that slips easily into the cultural fabric of the surrounding communities.

The project is a collaboration between the architect, the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, and the nonprofit Le Korsa, which provides grants for work in Senegal that increases access to medical care, education, or the arts. The idea for the school arose in 2012 following a similar collaboration between the architect and Le Korsa elsewhere in Senegal. Imam Thierno Sall envisioned a school that could provide literacy to local students in both French and Pulaar while also providing access to practical skills, like cooking and carpentry. The mixed curriculum that drives the school was developed after three years of discussions between Le Korsa and leaders in the community.

In designing this project, the team significantly improved the existing government-approved typology for schools in the region. They are typically rectangular rooms made of concrete blocks with corrugated metal sheets for roofs; the often deafening noise caused by rainfall can make hearing lessons challenging. Instead, the team opted for more traditional and environmentally friendly building materials, such as mud bricks, thatch, and bamboo.

The school was built by a local construction team, ensuring the region's residents can renovate it to accommodate their future needs.

The school is comprised of four classrooms and two flexible spaces, all arranged around an internal courtyard. Though it was adapted for a much larger scale, the design is similar to many homes found in this region of Senegal. As a result, the school is both immediately familiar to residents as a place to gather and a striking presence in the landscape.

With no existing on-site electrical infrastructure, passive energy strategies were crucial for the project's success from its conception. The school's thatched roof creates a unique geometry and orients the building in the direction of the prevailing wind to aid passive ventilation. Inside, the school is often 20 degrees cooler than the temperature outside. The school is lit entirely with natural light that enters through many open-air atria and openings within the brick walls.

Given the site's location in an arid steppe, the preservation of stormwater is critical, and the school preserves as much as possible. The roof is pitched a consistent 45 degrees to help capture water and feed an existing aquifer. The aquifer is an important source of potable water for the surrounding community and the school's nearby vegetable gardens.

The school was built by a local construction team, ensuring the region's residents can renovate it to accommodate their future needs. With no need to fly in consultants or rely on foreign resources, the school challenges the prevailing ideals of humanitarian architecture by empowering its users to claim it as their own.

Additional information

Engineer - Structural: Schlaich Bergermann and Partners

General Contractor: Dr. Magueye Ba


Kim Yao, AIA, Chair, Architecture Research Office (ARO), New York, New York

Phillip Bernstein, FAIA, Yale Architecture School, New Haven, Connecticut

Melissa Daniel, Assoc. AIA, Amentum, Annapolis Junction, Maryland

Magdalena Glen-Schieneman, AIA, MGS Architecture, Marina del Rey, California

Jim McDonald, FAIA, A&E Architects, Missoula, Montana

Marianne McKenna, KPMB Architects, Tornoto, Ontario

Conor Merrit, AIAS, University in St. Louis, Waite Hill, Ohio

Keith Lashley, AIA, HKS, Winter Haven, Florida

JoAnn Wilcox, AIA, Mithun, Seattle, Washington

Image credits

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Iwan Baan

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Iwan Baan

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Iwan Baan

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Iwan Baan

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Sofia Verzbolovskis