Building Neighborhoods that Build Social and Economic Prosperity

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A busy plaza with pedestrians, cyclists, and street vendors in front of multi-use buildings.A depiction of the steps to siting the buildings on Kigali's undulating terrain.

Location: Kigali, Rwanda. Neighborhood, District, and Corridor

SITE: 30 hillside acres in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda.

Program: A growth template and specific neighborhood plan, including 2000 housing units, that blends attributes of formal and informal settlement to create a place that is socially rich and deeply sensitive to its hillside context.

Kigali is the hilly capital city of Rwanda, a central African country that is one of the world’s poorest nations. Kigali and the country as a whole are known for their rugged terrain, and the majority of the capital’s inhabitants live in informal hillside settlements. Past urban development efforts in Kigali have imported single-use development patterns, creating formal settlements that, while served by infrastructure, are unsympathetic to local lifestyles, disruptive of the natural environment, and fail to serve low-income populations due to their capital-intensive development process. 

This project by the University of Arkansas Community Design Center (UACDC) is a cooperation with private, governmental, and non-governmental stakeholders that seeks to integrate lessons from informal hillside settlements into resilient formal development patterns. Jurors appreciated that the project doesn’t just create a neighborhood plan for 2,000 new housing units – it also provides general tactics for hillside development applicable to the city as a whole.

Very limited access to credit and mortgages in Rwanda makes financing home construction difficult, and the government lacks the resources to build finished units for the country’s low-income population. However, this project takes advantage of an established “site-and-services” practice in Rwanda where the government provides services such as roads, utilities and a basic building framework. Through cooperative arrangements, residents finish and outfit dwellings, shops, and surrounding communal spaces on these frames. 

UACDC grounded their project in careful research on housing typologies and environmental strategies in Rwanda. This included observation of urban life in informal settlements and interviews with members of resident cooperatives. Based on formal and informal urban settlement patterns as well as Rwandan hillside farming communities, the project sets out six tactics for creating socially vibrant and environmentally resilient hillside spaces. 

While engaging in thoughtful site planning, the proposal uses the flexibility inherent in the site-and-services approach to housing provision as an asset for creating diverse urban environments. The first step is the creation of a block pattern that is aligned perpendicularly to hill contours. Embankments act as sites of socialization, storm water management and erosion control. A street network is then created that connects semi-private courtyards, main roads and service roads that run diagonally across the hill contours. The interaction of these multi-use streets with the contours of the land creates a vertical urbanism that accommodates a mix of informal and formal social activities through varied space sizes and types. 

The frames of the buildings themselves are designed to be modular, with modules that can be arranged and modified to fit the needs of the building users. Even given this approach, the possibilities of additions, stacking, and site orientations fosters built diversity rather than homogeneity. The buildings created through these modular arrangements can themselves be arranged to create different configurations including courtyards, duplexes, triplexes, and galleries. Juror Vanessa September stated the she appreciated the diverse pedestrian gathering spaces created by the interactions between public streets and these semi-private spaces formed by dwelling unit configurations.

Juror Jason McLennon noted the project’s sophisticated treatment of infrastructure such as transportation and water. Careful project siting and features such vertical gardens and solar chimneys are elements of an approach that emphasizes distributed, multi-use infrastructure. For example, twenty-five-year storm events can be handled within each block while fifty-year events are treated by embankment landscapes and hundred-year events are conveyed to the adjacent wetland system.

This proposal for Kigali exemplifies how developing countries can transition from informal to formal settlement patterns with an eye towards resiliency, sustainability, and local social vitality. UACDC is working with both with national housing authorities and supranational assistance organizations such as the United Nations to implement the project’s strategies as an alternative to single-use redevelopment in Kigali.

Transect Zone(s): T4 general.
Status: Proposed
Project or Plan's Scale: Neighborhood
Features: Affordable/subsidized housing, Live/work, Mixed uses.
Land area (in acres): 30
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Residential types: Low-rise flats.
Project team designers: University of Arkansas Community Design Center
Project team developers: N/A

Previous site status: Undeveloped greenfield

Starting/Ending date of construction/implementation: -