Bringing Lush Life to Arid Peru school
Bringing high quality classrooms to students accustomed to learning in shacks and adding green spaces to an urban desert are key elements in the renovation of Escuela Pitagoras, a Lima, Peru project honored for its environmentally and culturally sensitive approach.
But equally important has been the inclusive, community-focused process that led to critical decisions and input on the plans.
Designers first met with members of the 2,000-student school community, then integrated their wishes into plans for the school and grounds.
“The first priority was new classrooms for the school, the second priority was a health post, and the third priority was green spaces,” said Ben Spencer, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Washington. Spencer said he is pleased with the designs themselves, but adds, “if you can marry that with the ideas and aspirations of a community, then I think you have something that’s much richer and more beautiful.”
The initiative encompasses the design and construction of Pitagoras Primary School Park and a new classroom building with 10 modular classrooms. Both designs incorporate numerous sustainable building strategies including a grey water filtration system, the use of native plant species, and designs incorporating predominantly locally sourced materials.
Even the irrigation system installed with the garden close attention to the local culture. Water from a hand-washing station is captured, filtered and used to keep a green garden fresh, in an old Incan design.
“The people need something to change the landscape,” says Jorge “Coco” Alarcon, a Peruvian architect coordinating the project. “They live in the middle of the desert, so the plants become a symbol of change.”
School principal Mario Lopez Antezana says the park-like space already attracts students to spend more time around the school. “The change in their attitude has been very obvious,” Antezana says. “They feel happier and want to study more.”
The project epitomizes the community-participatory approach that both the Design Corps and SEED (Social Economic Environmental Design) Network, the sponsors of the documentaries, view as vital for public-interest projects such as these.