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The Winners of the 2021 Kaira Looro Competition for a Women’s House in Africa

Written by:
Raoul Vecchio
Kaira Looro Competition

The objective of this year’s edition of the Kaira Looro international architecture competition was to design a women’s house created to promote gender equality as a determining factor for development in rural Africa. Participants from all over the world submitted their architectural proposals, based on innovative and sustainable design and destined to accommodate awareness-raising activities and training initiatives aimed at developing the village, in the name of equality. The winners were selected by an international jury.

Rural development, a reduction in discrimination and the creation of a sustainable environment all depend on the hard work which every member of society invests, both directly and indirectly, in the collective. Gender equality is crucial to the construction of an equitable society in which everyone can make a fundamental contribution to sustainable development.

Equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary condition for a prosperous world. That’s why it’s number five on the list of “Sustainable Development Goals” established by the United Nations: eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence, safeguard the rights of all genders, and provide social protection services, thus guaranteeing female participation at all levels of decision making.

Based on these considerations, the objective of the 2021 edition of the Kaira Looro International Architecture Competition was to select an architectural model for a “Women’s House” to be built in Africa, as well as to raise awareness in the international community regarding the topic of equal opportunity in developing countries and to support the charity projects promoted by the Balouo Salo humanitarian organization.

The architecture requested by the competition was a symbolic and ecological 300 square meter space inspired by local traditions, that can be self-constructed with the benefitting community itself. A space in which associations and members of society can meet and discuss the topics of equality and human rights, guaranteeing involvement and emancipation of the female community in favor of the region’s social, economic, and political development.

The project area is in southern Senegal, where Balouo Salo has been active since 2014 with the creation of various infrastructural projects that have facilitated access to potable water, encouraged education, and promoted sustainability and human rights. This is one of the least developed areas in Senegal: the poverty rate is approximately 90%; sanitary conditions are among the worst in the country with only 8% of the population having access to filtered water; and 70% of the population lives in homes without access to electricity.

African women gathering Image of the women activities in project area

The competition, announced in January 2021, was open to young architects, engineers and designers in teams or as individual participants. The design proposals were evaluated by an international jury made up of prominent figures in the field of gender equality and architecture, including the president of the jury Kengo Kuma (Kengo Kuma & Associates) and Benedetta Tagliabue (EMBT Miralles Tagliabue), Urko Sanchez ( Urko Sanchez Architects), Agostino Ghirardelli (SBGA), Oulimata Sarr (Regional Director of UN Women West and Central Africa), Salimata Diop Dieng ( Minister of Women, Family, Gender and Child Protection of Senegal), Lehau Victoria Maloka ( Director of Women Gender and Development Directorate of African Union Commission Azzurra Muzzonigro (Sex and the City) and the scientific committee of Balouo Salo / Kaira Looro.

On May 20th the organization announced the 30 winning projects, which include 1st place, 2nd place, 3rd place, 2 honourable mentions nominated by the president of the jury, Kengo Kuma, and by the Balouo Salo Organization, 5 special mentions, and 20 finalists.
The winning team will receive a cash prize of € 5.000 and an internship at the prestigious “Kengo Kuma & Associates” architectural firm in Tokyo, Japan. The second place winner will receive € 1.000 and an internship at the “EMBT – Miralles Tagliabue” architectural firm in Barcelona, Spain. The third place winner will receive € 500 and an internship at the “SBGA - Blengini Ghirardelli” in Milan, Italy.

Furthermore, the winning project will be built by the Balouo Salo humanitarian organization as a charity project in a small village in southern Senegal to promote equality and combat discrimination and violence, encouraging emancipation of the female community in a rural context in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The winner of the 2021 edition is Juan Pablo Lopez Isabella from Uruguay. The second prize was won by a team from Portugal made up of David Gonçalves, João Dias, Gonçalo, Santos, Pedro Gomes, Daniel Simões. The third place, however, comes from Italy with a team made up of Annachiara Trabacchin, Elena Paccagnella, Gloria Aiolfi, Alberto Martini.

Two honourable mentions were nominated, one selected by Kengo Kuma and the other by the Balouo Salo Organization, the teams come respectively from Vietnam and Poland. The first is composed of Quý Ngô Thanh, Nghĩa Nguyễn Đức, Sơn Đào Thanh, Long Cao Hoàng, Ngân Phạm Thị Thanh. The second, instead, composed by Weronika Paczkowska, Aleksandra Kubiak, Marta Mojsik, Piotr Gajdak. 5 special mentions were awarded to team projects from Canada, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Brazil and Greece. The other 20 finalist projects were teams from Romania, Latvia, China, Canada, Holland, Germany, Guinea, Brazil, Hong Kong, Portugal, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay, Lebanon.

Winning project of Kaira Looro Competitio– 2021’s Edition

Project by Juan Pablo Lopez Isabella from Uruguay

Located in the village of Baghére, on the plot of land attached to the local municipality in front of the road, with a flat and sandy terrain, with acacia and mango trees in the background, an enclosure is planned to hold awareness, training activities, and promote the growth of the region under the sign of equality. 

2nd place of Kaira Looro Competition – 2021’s Edition

Project by David Gonçalves, João Dias, Gonçalo, Santos, Pedro Gomes, Daniel Simões. from Portugal

To achieve this, the search for the right design began by understanding how we wanted the building to be perceived from the outside and how we wanted it to be experienced and felt once inside. We quickly realised that for this place to be an effective tool in spreading the strong and urgent message of improving women's lives, it had to be an inviting and inclusive place, that naturally brought people together.

3rd place of Kaira Looro Competition– 2021’s Edition

Project by Annachiara Trabacchin, Elena Paccagnella, Gloria Aiolfi, Alberto Martini from Italy.

Our design process so begins with an awareness of the situation in which we are operating, and in particular by acting with the right sensibility to achieve the creation of a civic centre, which helps women today to leave their homes and take an interest in their own future in a place that welcomes them and makes them feel strong, independent and not alone. The space we have designed therefore aims to become an oasis free of any inequality and prejudice, being mainly available to women, but not excluding anyone who wants to interact with this small reality, respecting those who live it, setting the goal of creating a fair involvement of men and women.


The previous winners of the last editions were: Aleksandra Wróbel, Agnieszka Witaszek, Kamil Owczarek from Poland (2020 – EOC); da Changze Cai from China (2019 – Peace Pavillon); Giacomo Spanio, Sergiu Cernea, Paolo Reali, Nicola Puppin in from Italy (2018 – Cultural Center); Natalia Serafin, Paulina Gorecka, Anita Wisniewska fro Poland (2017 – Sacred Architecture).

In addition to raising awareness in the international community regarding the topics of equality and human rights, another objective of the competition is to sensitize promising young talents in the international architectural landscape about the responsibilities that designers have in society, while also providing an opportunity for professional growth and international visibility in order to facilitate their insertion in the professional world through the organization of internships at international architecture firms.

As is the event’s custom, this year too all of the proceeds from enrolment fees will be donated to the Balouo Salo humanitarian organization. Specifically, this year’s funds will be used to build the winning project, which will be inserted within a broader humanitarian project that, in addition to construction of the structure, includes training, awareness-raising activities, and community organization in order to promote topics related to equal opportunity policies and the fight against discrimination.

Participation in this year’s edition was exceptional, with over 1000 entries from all over the world, most of which from: Italy, Poland, Brazil, Greece, France, Colombia, China and Mexico. More than 150 teams of various nationalities participated.

The winning projects can be viewed on the competition’s official website. As for previous editions, the “Kaira Looro Architecture Competition – Women’s House” official book will be published, featuring all of the winning projects and the Top 50 entries. Also in this case, all proceeds will be donated to humanitarian causes.

By Naser Nader Ibrahim

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