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Rendering of school building and students created by student Kristin Pitts

In a unique design research studio, Assistant Professor Maged Guerguis and his fifth-year architecture students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, addressed a need that existed 9,000 miles away.

Maged Guerguis Assistant Professor Architecture
Assistant Professor Maged Guerguis

In fall 2020, Guerguis introduced his students to the Hlauleka School in Chokwe, Mozambique. The school was founded 10 years ago by its director, Sybil Baloyi, to serve children orphaned by the country’s two decades of civil war.

Guerguis learned of the school and met with Baloyi to discuss how he and his students could support her work.

“As I learned about her mission to serve the children and her plan to expand the school, I wanted to take this as an opportunity for us as a school to help in a tangible way,” Guerguis said.

In the fall studio, students studied the social, economic and cultural short- and long-term impact that natural disasters like flooding and cyclones—common occurrences in coastal Mozambique—can have on education. They studied school buildings around the world as they learned about Mozambique, studied local construction techniques, and discussed the future of the school with Baloyi.

“We were provided with a unique opportunity to communicate with the client to more thoroughly understand the needs and vision of the school,” said student Kristin Pitts. “Most critical to the school is the need for expansion, as it has experienced significant growth since its inception over a decade ago.”

“Direct access to those involved with the school and surrounding communities established a clear framework for site and structure potentials,” said student Will Nix.

With advanced research as a foundation, students developed ideas for the school campus master plan. They were challenged to design a sophisticated flood-resistant campus that can withstand torrential storms while providing needed amenities using only simple technologies and limited resources found locally.

“Resources and environmental concerns were the most critical factors to be considered and addressed,” Pitts said. “The design resolves both as it seeks to capitalize upon local accessible resources and familiar building methods in the construction of resilient structures that support the needs, performance, and longevity of the Hlauleka School.”

Students worked toward designs that address the overall demand for affordable, innovative, resilient and environmentally sustainable functional buildings that can be applied to other areas in the region. To enable construction of the buildings, students created building prototype manuals for local builders.

“Our studio was fundamentally about achieving insights into the social, economic, political, and spatial qualities congruent with extreme climate conditions and disaster relief for the community,” Nix said. “Each student team took its own unique approach in confronting these issues, but at the core we were all working toward flexible and resourceful strategies for the malleable needs of the school.”

The studio demonstrated to students that architecture can be used to address great need in any part of the world.

“For me, architecture used to render assistance in circumstances of basic need is in many ways the most meaningful architecture in its undeniable use as a tool to serve others and affect change,” Pitts said. “In this instance, it is especially raw and powerful. [Architecture’s] potential to improve lives and provide dignity through the design and construction process in a very palpable way profoundly resonated with me.”

Nix added, “The studio dissolved boundaries and provided a lasting framework of responsive design approaches for the future of a thriving community.”

In addition to Pitts and Nix, students in the studio are Gisele El Baaklini, Chris Burke, Zachary Cessna, Hollywood Conrad, Matthew Crow, Sandra Ghabrial, Ariani Harrison, John Hooten, Patrick Keogh, Anthony Neuendorf, Julianna Olsen, Deniz Soydan, and John Worsham.

Guerguis, who is the McCarty Holsaple McCarty Endowed Professor, collaborated with students in the college’s chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students (NOMAS) to develop the fall studio. He intended that his students would travel to Mozambique to help in the construction of the master plan they designed, but the coronavirus pandemic prevented this travel.

“I see this as a future opportunity to make a difference in the lives and futures of the children of the area and for our students to get firsthand learning experience of the entire process, from design to construction,” Guerguis said.

Learn more about the College of Architecture and Design’s work around the globe.


Amanda Johnson (865-974-6401,​