“Half Houses” by Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, of the firm Elemental. It is one of eleven building projects that transform poor communities in “Small Scale, Big Change,” an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. Photographer: Cristobal Palma/Museum of Modern Art via Bloomberg

In one of Africa’s most remote places, a three-room school rises from a hot, dry plain. The metal roof arches over spidery steel rods and mud-brick walls. It’s stark, gorgeous, simple.

We are looking at hope in the tiny village of Gando, Burkina Faso, West Africa, one of the exhibits in “Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement” at Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art.

After making good as an architect, the designer returned to build the school his poor village so desperately needed.

At another school in Rudrapur, Bangladesh, fabrics in vibrant blue, red and lavender flutter from the doorways and cover the ceiling. Inspired by local adobe traditions, Bavarian architect Anna Heringer used thick walls to deflect the searing sun. Local residents framed an upper level in lightweight bamboo poles lashed together.

The result is an environment in which any kid would be happy to learn.


James S. Russell