Making opportunity two bricks at a time
CHARLESTON — A promise is crossing the Atlantic on a vessel called Hero. On a vast cargo ship, deep inside a heavy steel container, a gift from South Carolina carries hope of a better life for a village in Africa.
Students and faculty of the Clemson Architecture Center in Charleston designed and built four manual brick-making machines for Project Okurase to serve a village by that name in Ghana.
The villagers learned the craft of compressed earth brick-making over the last few years with a borrowed machine that made one brick at a time. Their hope was to make enough bricks to build a community center complex designed a year ago by Clemson architecture students. (See related story.)
But the owner of the machine took it back, leaving the Ghanaians with fresh but unusable skills.
Four new manual machines — each of which makes two bricks at a time — will enable the people of Okurase to resume their brick-making enterprise with eight times their previous output.
“We hope this leads to a level of self-sufficiency for the people of Okurase,” said Ray Huff, assistant professor and founding director of the Clemson Architecture Center in Charleston. “They can use the bricks to build the center. But it’s more than that. They can teach people how to make compressed earth bricks and they can train people in how to build, and when they have more bricks than they need, they can sell them.”
The project is a service-learning tradition that is the legacy of Robert Miller, who was director of the Charleston center for 10 years before accepting a position with the University of Arizona this summer. Miller’s studios tied architecture to community service in a way he hoped would bring about something good.
The studio connected with Project Okurase first to design the Nkabom Centre for Skills Training and Formal Education. The 16-building complex will give the village a place for health care, teaching, job skills training, child care and more. When the village of some 2,500 residents lost the original brick-making machine, the architecture students were called upon again.
Huff said the Clemson machines had to be manual because of the absence of electricity and durable enough to withstand years of heavy use. Time ran out for the students as the semester came to an end, but metal artisan Sean Ahern of Ahern’s Anvil in Charleston, the primary designer of the machines, completed construction. Denis Brosnan of Clemson University’s materials science and engineering department tested the laterite bricks for structural integrity.
“The Clemson University professors and students have been incredible,” said Cynthia Cupit Swenson, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina. Swenson has been involved with Project Okurase for four years. “It’s an amazing gift that provides this village a means for a better life.”
The ship Hero sailed Aug. 31 and is due to arrive in Ghana Oct. 5. In the meantime, recent Clemson architecture graduate Chris Moore and his wife, Evan, traveled to Okurase, where she will teach academics and dance and he will spend six weeks training the village on how to assemble and use the machines. He will work with village residents to begin construction on the first building.