Building blocks for learning

Author: School of Architecture

University of Notre Dame School of Architecture students have teamed up with Building Tomorrow, Inc. (BT) to design, fund and build a much-needed school in the Kiboga district of Uganda, Africa.

BT is an international social-profit organization that encourages youth philanthropy to build educational infrastructure projects for under-served children in sub-Saharan Africa. BT currently works in Uganda, identifying areas with the greatest number of children who have the least access to a primary school.

Notre Dame’s involvement began last year when student Elijah Pearce, B.Arch ’09, attended a talk by BT president, George Srour, and decided to recruit fellow students to join their efforts. Over the next year Pearce, with the generous funding of Matthew and Joyce Walsh, brought together a group of six Notre Dame Architecture students to build the new school.

“With this project we were acting on two fronts,” Pearce said. “We were trying to fundraise for a school in an underserved area of Uganda, and we were also looking, as architects, to see how we could improve the school’s design.”

The students’ design takes advantage of cross breezes to cool the building naturally. It is also oriented for optimal solar angles, minimizing the need for heating. The school’s roof collects water, and vent details have been added to the walls to enhance the design visually while improving the overall ventilation system. Perhaps most significantly, the students will be building with newly-adopted interlocking soil-stabilizing block (ISSB), bricks they will produce on site entirely from local materials that reduce the need for mortar.

The school, to be named the Academy of Kyeitabya, will be BT’s ninth in Uganda. Once open, the BT Academy of Kyeitabya will join the nearly-completed BT Academy of Sentigi as the second location supported by Notre Dame.

When talking about the project, the students emphasize the opportunity to give back through architecture. “We’ve been given a tremendous educational gift, and can now make a practical application of what we’ve learned here at Notre Dame,” said fifth-year student Mallory Mecham.

Adds fellow student Tim Reidy, “Nobody felt obligated to take part in this project. Nobody needed course credits. But we all felt obligated through our conscience.”

 You can view an introductory video here. Updates from the students’ time in Kyeitabya are available online at