The Visitor Information Centre (VIC) of the Udzungwa Mountains National Park is a structure proposed to be located right after the gate entrance of the park, along the road going towards the mountains and the camp sites. It will therefore welcome the tourists before and after the hiking, and provide informations about the park and its rich biodiversity, while enhancing the international visibility and the marketing of the Park. The VIC will also serve to raise local commu- nity’s awareness of the protected environment by hosting student classes, seminars, workshops and other educational activities.
MAIN DESIGN CRITERIA_ The VIC is composed by two independent units: the exposition area and the multi-use unit. This choice increases the economy and the ease of construction, since the functional programme can be achieved through less articulated structures. It also allows different combination of use, both for the Udzungwa Mountains VIC and for other possible VICs that can be pictured as com- positions of the same basic units with adaptation to different sites and needs. By developing one design in terms of internal distribution of the units and technical choices, it is therefore possible to use it as base for various adaptations, with no or minimum alteration and consequently reduced design costs. The Udzungwa Mountains VIC, placed on the northern side of the road that leads up to the forest, has the two units coupled and rotated of few degrees from one another, placed over one elevated terrace that embraces and unifies the complex. This also enhance the scenographic impact of the VIC at the entrance of the park, while protecting it from animals and water potentially flowing down from the hills. The modification of the terrain are minimized in order to reduce costs and the alteration of the environment. A soft artificial slope allows everyone to access the terrace from the road. The VIC is placed within a context of natural vegetation. The relationship with the environment is then underlined by the green and lush vegetation that constitutes the background of any of the windows. Westward, a patio let the visitor have a direct link with the forest and the mountains that can be admired from that point: the subject of the exposition is then exposed itself. The flexibility was a major criterion followed also while developing the plan for each of the units. The aim is to allow flexibility in the uses of the structure.
• exposition area_ The small museum can host different kinds of exhibits. It is articulated in four rooms of equal size and a central corridor that crosses the whole building from the entrance to the patio. This path, that continues from the multi-use unit’s openings, allows one see through the whole com-plex along the east-west direction, while the north-south direction is already open because of the composition of the two units. The exposition area provides extensive wall surfaces which can be used to mount educational panels, photographs, screens for videos and interactive exhibits, or any other graphic and multi-media display. The room are also thought to host natural objects or models. The lighting system is customizable according to the exposition. The west side has large transparent openings toward the covered patio that shields the interior from the direct solar light, but still allows to see the mountains and the forest. Such patio embraces the west and the north side of the structure. The building is also provided of a toilet and of a closet for the cleaning and maintenance tools.
• multi-use unit_ The room is less formal than the actual Exposition, in order to host a various range of activities. It is an open space divided in two levels: the floor of the entrance is at the same level of the one of the terrace and of the exposition unit. Inside, the room develops in a lower space which is available for different uses, such as seminars, projections, conferences or reunions. The southern wall is provided with a large white screen; the projector can be mounted on the concrete beam that crosses the room. The northern wall is shielded internally by curtains that are the continuation of the ceilings. This gives not only a contemporary appeal to the space, but has the function to delimit a storage space for the furniture – chairs and tables – allowing to quickly adapt the configuration of the room according to the needs of the moment. The access to this space, that has enough storage capacity to set the room completely clean, is immediate and practical for the staff.
MAIN TECHNOLOGICAL CRITERIA_ The main criteria followed for the development of the VIC’s technological choices are simplicity, availability of materials and workmanship, costs limitation and – above all – environmental sustainability. The reduction of imported materials and processes lowers the costs while enhancing the local economy and labour involvement. The main feature of the structure is the compressed stabilized earth block masonry (CEB masonry). The block used for such constructive system are in large part obtained from properly- soil collected on-site on in close proximity, mixed with a small percentage of cement and then compressed into moulds. The technique has numerous advantages in terms of cost saving and ecology, because it involves minimum CO2 emission during its entire life-cycle included its disposal, and reduces the needs for transportation. The system has been proved to be effective and used in the last decades in a wide number of constructions elsewhere in Africa, and worldwide. For the design of the VIC, the benchmark for the standards regarding durability, mechanical performances, costs and environmental aspects are set in the blocks made with the Hydraform System. Hydraform is a company that has been active in more than 50 countries for the last 25 years. It sells and rent in-site CEB making machines and provides training for local workers. A large number of CEB made buildings have been then tested and documented. The use of reinforced concrete is very limited, and it its substantially included in the design to enhance the anti-seismic performances of the structure. The orientation of the VIC conciliates the needs for the superb view of the Udzungwa mountain forests with the correct exposition to the sun incidence. In order to increase the climatic performances of the buildings a ventilated roofing structure is proposed. It allows to shield the direct hit of the sun and let the air flow under it, avoiding heating retention. Overhanging along the perimeter of buildings, the roofs also protect the walls from the direct hit of rain water. The structure will be constructed starting from steel bars, commonly used for reinforced concrete. Although apparently complex, the structure is actually simple, and the work can be carried on by local welders. This type of roof has also been used elsewhere in Africa and worldwide.
in collaboration with: arch. Dalia Omar Sidik