Lead Applicant

Dr Josephine Malonza Mwongeli


The project was part of an Architectural Design studio iv module, titled ‘Cultural Contexts’ based on the evident urban informality and the pressing housing challenges in Kigali, while at the same time reflecting on 2020’s world Habitat day theme ‘Housing for all: A Better Urban Future.” In line with SDG 11.1 on Adequate Housing, the module designed to inspire students how cultural values can be prioritized to better support and guide sustainable housing design decisions. Students had the chance to involve real clients- a selected community in Kigali – through a participatory design process.

  1. Community interaction: Students were given the opportunity to interact with a real site and its community. With this they were able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the houses, as well as better understand the daily needs of the community members.
  2. Developing design interventions: Students synthesized their findings from the community and in an iterative design process, developed new housing designs based on the community’s needs.

  3. Testing community engagement tools: Throughout the community workshop, various community engagement tools were tested (such as surveys, a street café, etc.).


Students were exposed to context-sensitive housing design, which is a key to alleviating the risks of urbanization. They were able to suggest innovative interventions for; nature-based solutions, mitigation strategy against natural risks such as flooding, effective urban planning aimed to promote healthy communities, improving the overall quality of urban living, and to accommodate growing urban populations in a n inclusive way.

The workshop, which took place in the Akabahizi cell of Gitega sector, Nyarugenge district, showcased the need for improved Housing development and management practices in unplanned settlements towards a more people-centred approach. In total, there were 185 participants. These consisted of 150 community members, two community leaders, 25, Year 3 students, four Year 5 thesis students, two field assistants and a studio coordinator. The workshop ran from 9:00am to 02:00pm.

It also made an inspiring case for enhancing public participation and fostering the co- production of knowledge with all stakeholders in the policy and national planning processes. It was the first large gathering during the COVID-19 period, and was granted permission by the government due its educational value to both the students and the local community.

The workshop provided students with a pedagogical experience in which they were granted the opportunity to interact, learn, and utilise their skills in the community. The assessment of the final trimester examination was graded based on the responsiveness of the students’ design interventions to context-specific challenges.

Project Outputs

Students were able to meet 150 community members where they reside (Akabahizi cell),  helping them to unpack cultural and contextual values in informal/unplanned housing. In this way, they were able to better interpret community needs and propose efficient design interventions, with and for the community. 

Being on the site physically allowed students to visually locate context-specific challenges and opportunities for sustainable housing in the selected site. They were able to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for future housing. Some of the identified points were:

Strengths & opportunities:

  • Strategic location (proximity to city centre, Mpazi river, Nyabugogo main bus terminals, and the Kimisagara marker and commercial centre, ultimately lowering the cost of transportation for community members)
  • Presence of growing informal businesses
  • Availability of basic utilities such as water and electricity.

Weaknesses & threats:

  • Informality of plots (plots are small, irregular, and not in compliance with the city masterplan).
  • Poor hygiene; inadequate water and waste management.
  • High petty crime rates
  • Accessibility challenges due to the lack of proper paths and roads.

Following the workshop, students were encouraged to apply their thoughts on the communities’ health and wellbeing, which is believed to be a significant building block of resilience in African cities. 

Stationary left over from the workshop was used by the students throughout the academic year. The workshop inspired a practice-relevant syllabus for the module, which will be applied in upcoming years.

Future Activities

The university would like to repeat this engagement annually, subject to funding. We would like to involve different groups of students and possibility varied categories of neighbourhoods from urban to rural, as well as formally planned, mixed abd unplanned settlements. We would also plan to conduct a similar community workshop in the secondary city of Huye to have a comparative analysis between living in large and small cities.

Capacity Strengthening

Researchers involved were able to learn new tools for community engagement such as the usage of surveys, street Cafés, speech bubble posters, and group discussions. 

An academic paper (Formalising the informal:  Community-based housing solutions in Kigali) and policy brief (Community-based housing solutions in Kigali) will be published, with co-authorship of the two research assistants. This was a great opportunity for them to dig into and expand their research and writing skills.

Students were able to benefit from the pedagogy and learning directly from the community. The workshop activity not only gave them an opportunity to learn more about the different weaknesses and opportunities for informal housing here in Kigali in correlation with the community’s needs, but it also gave them skills and experience for any similar projects in which they may engage in the future. 

Community members feel appreciated and integrated in decision making around housing interventions. Some testimonies from members of the community as well as our team were collected. 

  1. Akabahizi cell Executive Secretary “Community members have grass root knowledge that city planners may not have, and hearing their opinions, worries, and suggestions can help the city to identify problems and identify solutions that will better satisfy the residents’ housing needs.”
  2. Module instructor ” It is not an option (out of choice) but mandatory for any planner/developer to use inclusive community participation strategies to guarantee inclusivity and ownership of communities, as end users, in not only the planning process but also the implementation phase”
  3. Woman 40 year old “Before this meeting with the university students, we thought that we did not need playgrounds for our children as they have those facilities at school, but we are now convinced that we need children playgrounds in our neighbourhood”
  4. Woman 35 years old “My focus group discussion does not agree with the university students’ proposal for shared kitchens… this will cause conflicts in the community; for example if I am cooking meat and my neighbour is cooking beans, there will be some jealousy that can lead to hatred and conflict”
  5. Man 38 years old “I like the fact that university students are thinking about solid waste management along the slope. This is really a big issue in our neighbourhood. some people don’t pay waste collection fees and are used to dumping their waste in the river Mpazi .. it is not always their fault, sometimes they don’t have money”

The university’s engagement with this community will be ensured, going forward.